“The biggest benefit to our children has been that their parents engagement in their learning has increased. Overall, the children’s and the staff engagement with Mums, Dads and each other is amazing. They are all having discussions and talking about the children and their learning.” – Narelle Dawson, Director & Teacher
At Bribie Island Community Kindergarten they place a great emphasis on their community. They run a Queensland Kindergarten program for two groups of twenty two children who benefit from a range of community engagement programs including an artist-in-residence, local young people with additional needs who are paid co-educators, weekly visits to a local aged care facility along with community gardening, bush kindy, and bush and beach family walks. They receive support from and have links with local community groups like the woodworking club, Community Arts Centre and reciprocal relationships with Indigenous community members.
When looking for a digital portfolio alternative, the Kindergarten’s Director of twenty-plus years Narelle Dawson found Storypark through Facebook, after her own children had encouraged her to get an account. She admits to not being overly technology-savvy, but is embracing Storypark because of the impact it is having on their community.
Narelle says, “Storypark has changed our world. But, while for us it ticks every box, it is still a challenge for us to continue to make it work and adapt it to our program and our community.”
This is an important point.
Storypark is adaptable and can be used in a range of ways. For this community focused centre, having a tool that allows them to engage and interact with families in real-time and improve not just the communication, but parent’s interest and understanding of their children’s own learning and development is a real benefit.
“The most significant outcome for us with Storypark has been the increasing parent engagement in children’s learning” Narelle says.
Previously, the service was sending children’s hardcopy portfolio’s home and encouraging parents to write notes or engage with it in some way, at best they got 20% of parents who would make a note or share anything in the portfolio. It was a lot of work, for not much value.
Storypark has made this process easier and the rate of engagement much higher. Most families are not just commenting, but adding their own stories and responding to the teachers’ reflection. In doing so, they are learning so much more about the life of their child in the kindergarten setting and we are learning so much more about the child’s life at home and in some instances parents are even making suggestions that contribute to planning and the emergent curriculum.
It has shifted communication practice in the centre. “We don’t use email to communicate with parents any more. We do this through Storypark.” Says Narelle.
“Parents are even using the community section to share tips and information. They are inviting each other to lunch and organizing and connecting more deeply as a community.”
Bribie Island Community Kindergarten is a kindergarten that has embraced and engaged with its community over many years and in Storypark they found a technology that didn’t decrease communication, but enhanced it. Storypark matches the approach they take in supporting the learning and development of their children. It is “richly Reggio inspired” shall we say, and Storypark compliments that approach perfectly.
However, Narelle would still like to offer some strategies, because sometimes the hardest part is getting parents engaged in the first place. But, once they are on, they are embracing Storypark in meaningful and purposeful ways.
A Story of Parent Engagement from Narelle
“I say to the parents, ‘I’m not tech savvy either’ and why don’t you come in for 5-10 minutes early and I can just show you how it works. One parent had not used Storypark at all and half way through the year I spent 5 minutes with them sharing their child’s Storypark and saying ‘look at what you are missing here’. That was motivation and now that parent contributes stories and responds to our stories and the child is benefiting from it. The parent is actively engaged in their child’s learning.”
- Find different ways to motivate parents to use it. Refer to it as “the child’s private Facebook” or just spend 5-10 minutes showing parents what it is and how easy it is to use.
- Always include open-ended questions for parents and others who are reading children’s stories to encourage them to engage or respond.
- Focus on the fact that this is about everyone in a child’s life communicating and focusing on supporting his or her development.