We are facing the most challenging time in schools and settings at the moment. Supporting families and children at home is a different way of working for us all and trying to do this effectively is a huge learning curve.
In the early years sector, we probably have the most experience of building relationships with our families. Developing positive and trusting relationships between school/setting and home is one of our core principles. So not having that close contact with our families during the current time, feels very frustrating and at odds with our beliefs. Therefsore, finding ways to stay connected to our families is so important. Having now had two lockdowns, where many of our children have been at home, we, like many schools and settings have thought hard about how to support our families while they have their children at home. Our approach has been to ensure communication is consistent and clear, to be aware that many of our families will need bespoke support, to acknowledge how hard it is for families and staff and that trying to maintain a sense of connection to our community is essential.
Developing a ‘core’ learning offer to families, has perhaps been the easier part. Like many, we have become more adapt at making videos and using video calls to stay connected and we are now offering daily welcome/rhyme time sessions, weekly story videos, alongside activities and ideas. We have ensured we have kept our pedagogy at the centre of what we are offer. ‘Twinkl’ worksheets are not part of our curriculum and we have continued to focus on what is important to us, such as sharing ideas for outdoor learning, engaging with stories and songs, promoting learning through first hand experiences such as sharing the recipe sequence cards which the children would use in nursery. However, we have been mindful that children are at home and have access to different resources. In the first lockdown, once we were able to get out and about more, we offered families the chance to come to school to collect resources and learning packs.
These were incredibly popular, and we have restarted this again. There has also been the opportunity for parents to collect resources that they might not have at home. For older children, lack of technology is proving to be a big disadvantage, younger children need access to resources to support their play and learning and many families will not have resources such as paper, pens, craft materials and books easily accessible. We have offered a wide range of packs and resources to collect including – puppet making bags, mark making bags, cookery ingredients, number rhyme packs, clay, craft materials and library books.
Response from a parent: ‘We picked up the goody bag yesterday and enjoyed making a puppet today and he loved it that much he decorated the bag too!’
The emphasis and importance on personalised connection and support, has been essential when supporting our families with children with SEND. Throughout the pandemic, we have consistently prioritised the need to stay in regular contact with all of our families. By understanding each family’s needs, we have been able to tailor our offer to meet the needs of each individual child. We have been able to personalise the frequency and timing of phone calls, emails, videos and live sessions and home learning to maximise potential for engagement.
The genuinely strong connections between home and school have allowed parents the space and the trust to share their own family context and as a result, has deepened our understanding of their child’s strengths, interests, relationships and needs. This in-depth insight, like never before, has really meant we can work together with parents to support the ‘whole’ child.
Our remote offer for children with SEND has evolved to be a very fluid one with learning opportunities and strategies being highly personalised to both the child’s needs and the family context – this has been a genuine enabler to optimise their engagement in learning. We understand that ‘home learning’ a 3-4 year old, with additional needs, will never benefit from a one size fits all approach. We use a range of methods to engage our families enabling them to access these at a time that works for the child and the family. Providing remote learning through a combination of live sessions, recorded videos, differentiated activities linked to children’s next steps and interests, delivering learning packages and through coaching and suggesting, has maximised potential for meaningful engagement and progress with our value of ‘feeling connected’, being the driving force.
Keeping learning personalised has been really important. A positive example of this was the use of the personalised visual timetable. Once the child had a picture of her car, doll and the specific shop she was going to, her and her mum were able to get to the shops happily. A standard timetable, which was previously shared, hadn’t worked. We are sure that we are all dreaming of the day when our settings are full again and we can freely mix and invite our parents and carers back in. But hopefully, through this difficult time there will come positives and one of these will be a deeper understanding of working with families and the need to constantly strengthen that partnership.
By Claire Turner (SENCo) and Lucy Parker (Deputy Head)
Claire and Lucy both work at Ludwick Nursery School.