What’s the idea?
With an extended national lockdown, many children in the Early Years have been out of their provision for months. Remote support for young children’s development and learning is difficult to organise. Play is central to young children’s learning. Different aspects of the child’s development link together through play and first-hand experiences like cooking, gardening and sewing. This cannot be supported through on-screen ‘lessons’ delivered remotely. However, parents can be guided to encourage their children’s play and learning through carefully planned remote support from practitioners.
What does the research say?
A recent review of research by Iram Siraj and others (2018, p. 17) talks about the importance of practitioners supporting ‘knowledge, risk-taking and autonomy in children’s learning, through play and playful interactions’. These practices are widely understood and supported by professionals in the Early Years. But, especially in diverse communities, parents may have a range of different approaches to helping their child’s early learning (Brooker, 2002). Parents from ethnic minority backgrounds who may not have experienced play-based learning in their own early years can be supported to encourage this approach, if educators engage in sensitive and respectful dialogue with them (Choudhury, 2017).
How does it work in practice?
This type of remote support for home learning through play depends on having the mobile phone contacts (e.g. WhatsApp) or email addresses of parents. Practitioners can create ‘broadcast lists’ on WhatsApp so that they can share messages and links to videos, without the risk of an inappropriate reply being shared with the whole group. Putting videos onto an online platform, like YouTube, enables practitioners to monitor the number of families who are watching, and whether they watch the whole clip or just a short section. This feedback enables practitioners to reflect on which types of videos are most effective.
A range of different approaches can all be effective. You could make a 2-minute film of a child, or group of children, playing with the resources. This could show how the adult guides their play (e.g., by standing back and being encouraging, or helping the children to organise materials and explore their uses). This, of course depends on parents of children still attending giving their consent. Alternatively, an adult could show, step-by-step, in a hands-on way, how to plant and care for seeds or how to make playdough. This may depend on giving families materials which they may not have at home: seeds, playing trays, flour, etc.
Seven top tips
An informal evaluation of supporting play-based home learning (East London Research School, 2020) found that the following approaches were positively received by parents:
- Give resources to families: seeds to plant, pots to plant them in, paper and pencils, and open-ended play materials. Families, especially in disadvantaged areas, may not have many materials at home for young children to play with.
- Model how children can play and learn by using the materials: ‘show, don’t tell’. Videos showing ways of playfully enjoying the materials work well. Videos or documents explaining how children learn through play, or suggesting activities, do not engage many parents.
- Many children enjoyed listening and watching practitioners reading favourite story books. These could then be linked to further play-based learning using free or low-cost resources, like making a ‘space rocket’ from an empty box after reading the book ‘Whatever Next’.
- Parents may not know the words to nursery rhymes and songs. Sharing these by video encouraged parents to sing with their children.
- Using WhatsApp and uploading videos onto a free platform like YouTube minimises the mobile phone data parents need to use to access support.
- Individual, supportive video-calls can encourage parents to play and talk with their children every day.
- The free, government funded website Hungry Little Minds gives more ideas to parents about chatting, reading and playing at home with their children.
Want to know more?
Brooker L (2002) Starting school: Young Children Learning Cultures. London: McGraw-Hill Education (UK).
Choudhury T (2017) Talking with Bangladeshi-British parents about children’s early learning. In: Grenier J, Finch S and Vollans C (eds) Celebrating Children’s Learning: Assessment Beyond Levels in the Early Years. Abingdon: Routledge.
Grenier J (2020) Working with parents to support children’s learning in the early years. The East London Research School, 21 November, 2020. Available at: https://researchschool.org.uk/eastlondon/news/working-with-parents-to-support-childrens-learning-in-the-early-years-what-we-learnt-and-what-this-means-for-the-future (accessed 16 February 2021).
Siraj I, Melhuish E, Howard SJ et al. (2018) Fostering effective early learning (FEEL) study: Final Report. Sydney, Australia: NSW Department of Education. Availablee at: https://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5314&context=sspapers (accessed 16 February 2021).