Involving parents

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By Sue Cowleyeducational author and trainer

From the earliest days of a child’s life, parents play a vital role in their son or daughter’s learning and development. Sue Cowley explains why it’s so important for parents and practitioners to work together and offers suggestions on ways to reach and involve them

Photo © Damir Cudic/

In the early years, it’s from their parents that children learn how to talk, how to play, how to form bonds, how to behave and how to become gradually more independent about caring for themselves. From your first contact with a child in your setting, you will get a feeling for how the parents have handled this early phase of their son or daughter’s development.

The importance of parental involvement in children’s education has been widely researched. A useful starting point is the 2008 DCFS report The Impact of Parental Involvement on Children’s Education (see internet links below). The report concludes that there are many benefits to parental involvement, particularly with respect to a child’s cognitive development in the early years. It also identifies the vital role that fathers play in their child’s chances of educational success.

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Parents’ point of view

There are many reasons why parents might not be as involved as you would wish. Some feel excluded or might lack confidence in understanding how they can support you. Education seems like a separate, secret world where children learn how to read, write, add up. Some might feel that they don’t need to bother any more – that they can hand over the job to you. Others may have had a negative experience of education or are simply too busy with work or other commitments.

On the other hand, you might come across parents who are almost too involved, who want to tell you how to do your job – the classic ‘helicopter parents’ – who manage every aspect of their child’s life. A minority of parents might resist or misunderstand the child-centred, play-based philosophy of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). You could come under pressure to have children sitting at tables, learning how to read and write under adult direction. You need to stand your ground and have confidence in the approaches you know work best while at the same time building good lines of communication with parents.

There are two aspects to building partnerships with parents. First, how parents are involved with the setting: what positive ways can they contribute to the work that you do with their children? And secondly, how parents can best support their child’s learning at home: what sort of things should they do?

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Ways to involve parents

It’s often the case that parents would love to get more involved in their children’s learning, but they just don’t know how to go about it. When you’re communicating with parents, be specific about the kind of things they can do to help. You might divide your suggestions into ‘At home’ and ‘At our setting’, for example:

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