It is an EYFS requirement that childminders “must seek to engage and support parents in guiding their child’s development at home.” Ofsted inspectors take this requirement very seriously. In fact, many childminders miss out on outstanding by overlooking this and comments like “Although the childminder works well in partnership with parents, she has not developed highly effective systems to share information with parents about how they can continue to support their child’s learning at home” often appear on inspection reports.
Parents have mixed reactions to the idea of ‘structured activities’ and ‘homework’. Some love it and want more of it. Others don’t feel it is appropriate. In deciding what to do with your children and families, you need to look carefully at your families and at what you are trying to achieve in your setting.
Your attitude to what you are sending home is crucial to engaging both the parents and children
The amount and type of activities you offer as suggestions to parents is going to be important and depend very much on what YOUR parents will do. An activity could be as simple as loaning a book to parents once a week to match a theme you are exploring in your setting, or could involve you ‘assigning’ activity sheets (like the colouring pages or maths sheets from my Childminding Best Practice Monthly Packs) for example.
When I used to take the children to music club once a week, as we left we were handed a colouring page. This colouring page was different from ‘ordinary colouring pages’ because the ‘Teddies Guitar Lady’ had given it to us to do. We took that colouring page very much more seriously than others we might do during the week that followed. So if you establish these assigned colouring pages, toys or reading books as important and as things to be taken seriously, then parents and children are more likely to treat them as such.
Why send things home?
I think it is important to be clear in your own mind WHY you are sending things home with parents. You don’t want to feel that you are wasting your time or the parents’ time or being unreasonable. So have a clear ‘purpose’ about what you are trying to achieve whether it is helping parents out, linking learning in their home with what you are learning in your setting, or getting children (and parents) ready for school. Remember that if you want parents to take it seriously and if you want them to do your ‘assignments’ with their children then you need to take yourself (and the activities) seriously as well.
Share ‘tip sheets’ and other tools to help parents support specific aspects of their child’s learning and development at home
One of the best types of activities to send home are activities that a parent can use to help a child on a particular learning goal he is working towards at that time. Suppose a child is working on tying his shoes. It would be fantastic to send him home with one of those wooden shoes with practice shoelaces on them. Suppose a child is just learning how to use scissors? Then a simple art project that requires him to cut something out would be perfect.
A big thing for any parent is potty training? Could you create a ‘tip sheet’ for parents – helping them to reinforce some of the ways you do things here? ‘I noticed that your child is ready for potty training. Here are some tips…’ You could send the sheet home along with a friendly children’s book about potty training that week for the parents to read at home.
Remember that all of these types of activities, suggestions and information you share with parents make you appear to be more and more of a childcare professional in their eyes.
‘Narrowing the gap’
According to the Ofsted publication Teaching and Play in the Early Years – a balancing act? “Children from poor backgrounds are much less likely to experience a rich and rewarding home learning environment than children from better off backgrounds.” Research suggests that good partnership working gives parents confidence to help with teaching their children. Sending things home to children from disadvantaged backgrounds is also important because you are helping to prepare the parents as much as the children for ‘doing homework’ ready for school.
Ofsted states that “The best settings were acting to break any possibility of an inter-generational cycle of low achievement… the most effective providers go out of their way to engage with parents who may themselves have had a bad experience of education.”
Offering challenges to children who are ahead
At the other end of the spectrum you can send home activities to show how you are ‘challenging children who are ahead’. Their parents may love the idea that you are helping them to get ready for school and will treat your assignments with all the seriousness we used to treat our Teddies Music Club colouring pages!
Give careful consideration to the frequency of home learning suggestions
How often should you lend books to children and expect them to do activity sheets and sit down with their child to do a jigsaw type activity? This is a difficult question because it depends very much on the type of parent and on your relationship with the parent. Some may be very receptive to the idea while others simply can’t be bothered to take the time. Others may feel strongly that they actually don’t want their small child given anything resembling a school worksheet. You have to respect parents’ wishes here whatever you may feel.
Don’t overdo the paperwork you expect parents to fill in – if you overdo it, parents won’t do any of it
I know that it is tempting to want the parents to document every little activity you do so that you have ‘proof for the Ofsted inspector’, but this can seriously backfire and I don’t recommend it. If you want parents to fill in a long form every time you lend them a book or a game, then they will quickly (very quickly) get bored of doing ALL parts of the task. They will see the form and decide that they can’t face the jigsaw because they can’t be bothered to fill the form and will return both unused. Ask yourself if you really need to make them fill in a form or if there is some other way you can document what you are doing for Ofsted? If you must use a form, remember to keep it simple for parents to fill in, or they will vote with their feet and abandon all of your homework ideas as too much work.
What sort of thing should you send home?
Some childminders lend children everyday toys. Others keep a few things special, just to be used for home sharing. Some examples of the sorts of things other childminders send home to support learning at home are:
- A reading book – chosen by the child, or to support a theme you are exploring
- Story sacks
- Nursery rhyme sacks
- Story stones
- A group toy to be looked after for the weekend
- Colouring pages
- ‘Worksheets’ or activity sheets
- Maths games and jigsaw puzzles
- Pre-prepared art kit with child sized scissors, glue stick and crayons etc
There are lots of ways that you can support children’s learning at home and it is up to you and parents how far you want to push the idea of ‘homework from my childminder’. So much depends on the types of parents, ages and stages of the children you are looking after, but the more seriously and regularly you take your home learning plan, the more seriously the parents will take it and the more benefit to everyone there will be. If you don’t have a home learning plan for your setting, why not write one today?
Remember to take yourself seriously and aim high!
Good luck with whatever you decide to do.
My NEW Communication with Parents Pack includes tools to help you to create a home learning plan for your setting, plus details suggestions on specific ways you can support learning at home. The pack includes information for new childminders setting up and for experienced childminders hoping to achieve outstanding.
- Supporting learning at home
- Attracting new parents to your setting – improving your marketing skills to get new parents to contact you, your unique selling points, WOW factors, managing the ‘first visit’
- Audit your setting to improve what you do
- Sharing challenging information about their child’s learning and development with parents in a tactful way
- Parent and child questionnaires
- Letter templates for challenging situations – late payment, late collection, unhealthy lunches, terminating your contract with a family
- Transition programme
Use the tools in my new pack to examine what is working well and what needs to be improved in terms of how you communicate with parents.
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About Kay Woods and Kids To Go
Kay Woods has been writing and selling childminding resources through her company Kids To Go since 2008. Her products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, the Learning Journey Plus for planning, observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). She is the author of the Start Learning book set published by Tarquin and she writes the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter.
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