Saturday, 3 June 2017

The Power of Play - Bringing Parents Along For The Ride

Along with winning over management, winning over parents seems to be amongst the top of concerns when embarking on a play-based learning journey.

It is certainly one of the main topics when I am talking to other principals and staff at other schools.  Many schools are coming up with new and innovative terms for the word play in an attempt to bring parents on side...while this is completely up to individual schools, I don't think there is any need to call play by any other name.

From my perspective parents come at this issue with really only one concern in mind...if they are playing all day, how and what are they learning?

If we as educators can take parents along for the ride with us and make the learning as visible as possible, I think we can appease these concerns.

I'm not a very linear person, my thoughts are often all over the place, and if you have ever had a discussion for me about anything that I am passionate about, you will know my mind is inclined to jump from one point to another and often they do not seem connected.  So in an attempt to keep myself on track I have placed my ideas of how to bring parents along for the ride in numerical order.  This is by no means a step by step guide, but they are roughly in some order.

1)  Start slowly.  We started with discovery time (3 years ago.)  Children loved it.  We took loads of photos of the learning and shared these with parents via our blog.  Through discovery we started an outside discovery shed, this was available to the whole school and it was a very positive way to implement play.

2)Our journey through discovery time led us to create a once a week class for ten new entrant children, completely play-based.  Through this class I was able to share the benefits and progress made socially and cognitively with our Board of Trustees.  Our Board received a lot of information about early learning and the developments we were making and the success we were having.  In turn the BOT became a big supporter of play-based learning.  Also through this parents with new entrants were able to see the benefits that this play-based class had on their child's initial transition to school.

3)Throughout our regular school newsletters and class newsletters I started to weave quotes about play-based learning and its benefits to children.  I also started sharing information via facebook, like podcasts about play and brain development.

4)When speaking to parents we started to change what we were talking about, framing it around key-competencies.  Focusing more on cognitive, social and emotional skills.  Placing importance on these key elements allowed us to help parents to see play-based learning from a different perspective.

5)At our annual new entrant information evening I started to focus more on play-based learning, talking about how our class worked, and encouraging parents to embrace play-based learning at home as well.  Encouraging them not to worry about readiness in terms of academic skills, but in terms of early social skills, creativity and imagination.  Photos shown at this evening were a mixture of pure play and also included focus of regular curriculum tasks that parents would expect to see.  We clearly paint a picture of a classroom where children still achieve well and begin to learn early literacy and numeracy skills as expected.  This puts parents minds at rest.  We also share our daily timetable at this meeting, it helps parents to see how self-directed and more teacher-directed tasks are woven into our day.

6)We still give parents ideas on how they can help at home.  Our children still have simple literacy and number goals (aligned with what they are up to) but the message we give is for parents to only begin to support with these when they see their child is interested.  We also place importance on play at home and encourage parents to see the value in slowing down.   When a child starts they get a little early learning pack with nursery rhymes and alphabet.  The letter that goes with this explains how it can be used.  When children are ready, parents get another letter explaining the next step in the reading process is early book skills etc etc.  Basically each step of the way is clearly scaffolded with information we deem important at the time.

7)We have created a parent information hub (blog) which is linked off our school blog.  This is still a work in progress, but includes a lot of important information for parents about early learning and the importance of play in brain development.  I put any research or information on here that I think is useful and link it to our seesaw account.  This is the link to our hub here. 

8)Seesaw - this is fabulous and has really helped us to make learning visible and accessible to parents.  We put on here balance of photos that show progress and play and can not rave more about what a wonderful addition it has been for us in terms of communication.  Through Seesaw I am able to share the problems we face during Agency.  I am able to share the villains and I am able to share the strategy and knowledge that we are learning, along with the learning songs we are using in agency.  Parents can clearly see that there is a lot of learning going on, and through these links can help children at home, or even join in on the play, pretending to be agents themselves.💚💛

9)Visit days are a brilliant way for parents to see play and learning going hand in hand.  We try to make these mornings a real taster....showing how we do reading and writing through play.  Children are your best sales people here....the way the talk about their learning always amazes parents and I think puts their minds at ease.  Children are also incredibly happy in this environment and the transition is easy...I think that helps immensely.

10)As a way to pull our whole learner community into play we took part in Outdoor Classroom Day this year.  The whole school self-directed play outside.  Many parents commented on how much children loved this day, many have asked when it will be repeated and I think most were amazed at the way children were able to self-direct all day.

I am really happy with where we are at now in our play-based journey.  We will continue to tweak what we do in terms of parent communication, but I think the key lies in this word...communication, making the learning within the play visible to parents and taking every opportunity to show it off.  As with anything there will also be interesting conversations to be had, but I think if we ourselves are well versed in the benefits of play and can demonstrate these clearly to parents, BOT  and our wider community then we are on the right track.

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