The purpose of this literature review is to investigate parent partnership and home learning in the early years. It will look at how working in partnership with parents and involving parents in the learning at home with their children may improve the learning outcomes for children in early years. ‘Parents and the home environment that they create are the single most important factor in shaping their children’s well – being, achievements and prospects’ (DfES 2007, cited in Ward 2009, p.1) All settings should develop partnerships with parents in order to improve the learning and development of the children with whom they work.
Parent partnerships are important to promote the early years’ experience for children and for them to gain the most out of their early education and reach expected levels of development. By practitioners working with the parents together they can understand and met the child’s needs and learning. Margaret McMillan (1860 – 1931) was among the first to state that parent involvement was important, even thought this was a positive step to developing partnerships with parents there were many obstacles to overcome (Fitzgerald 2004). Before the 1960s early years workers thought they were experts as far as children were concerned and there was no real parent partnership, they did not recognise the important contributions a parent could make. In the next decade this changed and there was more of a focus on communication and practitioners recognised that developing positive relationships with parents benefited the child (Ward 2009). In recent times parent partnership has become a key theme within policy. Parent partnership is fundamental to the philosophy and strategic approach underpinning the Every Child Matters agenda and the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917-2005) ecological systems theory explains how everything in a child’s environment affects how a child grows and develops. He divided the person’s environment into five different levels:
Children’s microsystems will consist of any immediate relationships or places they have direct contact with. Some examples would be home, early years setting and school. A microsystem usually includes the family, any peers and caregivers (Macleod-Brundenell, Kay 2008). The themes and principles in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) emphasise that the child is of first importance and that all relationships, experiences and the environment together influence how the child will develop, play and learn. Research has shown that the influence of parental involvement can have a major impact on school readiness and attainment levels from birth right up to sixteen years old.
The relationship between a practitioner and parent is an exceptional one, as the parent has trusted the practitioner with their child. Building a good positive relationship with parents’ starts from the moment a parent first gets in touch with the setting about a place for their child and then it takes time and understanding from the practitioner to build up trusting relationships. As stated in research ‘Within effective partnerships parents and practitioners have identified trust as a vital element’ (Bruce and Meggitt 2002). There are different ways to build parent partnerships and it is important to find the best approach for each parent as they are all different and using the best method to engage that parent will ensure that the best possible outcomes for the child are reached. Good communication is crucial between parents and practitioners to build up relationships and all contributions from parents should be encouraged and welcomed. This two way communication and support is critical in early years as this is likely to be the first contact with education and early year’s settings. Contact with families in the setting can take place in different contexts, from informal chats at the start or end of the session, parent evenings or stay and play sessions. For effective partnerships practitioners need to recognise differences, diversity and accepting the choices parents make about their involvement.
The principles of an effective partnership in an early years setting are as followed.
• Both early years practitioners and parents are experts as far as a children and families are concerned.
• It is a non – hierarchical, collaborative relationship.
• Both early years practitioners and parents make valuable though different contributions to the partnership (Rodd 2006)
Parents are the most important people in a child’s live. They are the first educators; they know their child better than anyone else. ‘Parental involvement in early learning as part of daily family life at home has a greater impact on children’s wellbeing and achievement than any other factor’ (Roberts,K 2009,p.1). While early years practitioners provide vital support in academic learning, parents have a greater impact on attitude and propensity for learning in the earliest stages of a child’s life (Siraj-Blatchford, 2002).. There is a continuing attainment gap between children from families with low socio-economic status and their wealthier peers. However, there is evidence that what parents do is more important than their level of education or social class (Melhuish, Morris ; Gardiner, 2017). Parental involvement in a child’s education from an early age has a positive effect on education achievement. Research shows that learning at home can have a significant impact on children’s cognitive development that continues through into school. This is not just limited to primary school, but has an impact into adolescence and adulthood. Researchers have acknowledged that there are seven main areas, known as the Early Home Learning Environment Index (EHLEI) as being the most important elements of home learning that improve educational outcomes, Reading to your child, visiting the library, creative activities like painting and drawing, singing rhymes and songs, numbers and counting, playing with letters and learning the alphabet (Hunt et al 2011, p.7). The Early Years Foundation Stage supports parents’ involvement in their child’s development, bridging the link between setting and home learning. EYFS framework states that ‘Good parenting and high quality early learning together provide the foundation children need to make the most of their abilities and talents as they grow up’ (HM Government 2017).
Once practitioners have established a positive and trusting relationship with parents they can begin to use their expertise to explain the importance of home learning, with practitioners playing a crucial role in supporting parents to improve the quality of home learning. Engaging parents to improve the home learning environment can be challenging but, research over many years suggests that parents are keen to support their children, especially when led by sensitive practitioners who work hard to build relationships, welcome parents in a warm and consistent way and offer different opportunities to engage in their child’s learning (Whalley, M. 2009). This leads to the realisation that both the parent and the practitioner are significant elements in a child’s life. Helping parents to provide a positive home learning environment is important for improving outcomes for children. It follows as a result that the parent and the practitioner should work closely together to provide learning that is consistent in both the home and the setting.