As CEO of Storypark I have the good fortune of working with great educators from all over the world. My job is to listen and understand our partners, educators and advisors to ensure that Storypark evolves in the ways that best serve children, educators and families.
All this listening lets me see common challenges and trends, so this is my second blog post sharing my observations. As I said in my first post, I’m by no means an expert when it comes to early childhood education. These are simply my thoughts and reflections – designed to provoke and (hopefully) offer a useful ‘outsiders’ perspective.
I remember early on when Storypark was just getting started I told a family friend about what we were creating and how we were enabling parents to be more involved in their children’s learning.
Without hesitation, after hearing my ideas she said “well that’s a shame.” This wasn’t the reaction I was expecting and I was a little taken aback. “Why?” I asked her. “Well it’s a shame that parents are too busy to be involved in their child’s learning and can only be involved via photos and videos” she replied.
This comment really stuck in my mind. Everyone is ‘busy’. Society makes so many demands on parents that they often haven’t got much energy or time left to give their children. Why is our society not beside them creating ways to be involved their own way and in their own time frames?
Everyone accepts that is increasingly difficult for families to get by as the relative affordability of living decreases. To provide the best for their children parents sometimes have to spend less time than they’d wish with their children.
But let’s imagine we somehow overcame that. If a parent had more time surely they’d engage in their children’s learning then right?
Sadly, this is not necessarily true – Educators can struggle to engage with parents regardless of their availability.
So why is this?
We regularly survey parents using Storypark as part of getting feedback and better understanding their interests. As a result of this we’ve heard that parents are often scared to engage. They don’t think they have anything to share and don’t know that their intrinsic knowledge of their child hugely valuable.
So why is there what seems to me to be a growing divide between what is seen as the roles of parents and the roles of educators? Sometimes it seems like the parents think their role is to work and the teacher’s role is to teach their children.
I asked Kath Cooper of Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand for her thoughts.
She said, “Students in my class sing the praises of Storypark in regard to getting stories to parents and the wider family quickly and in a professional format. However, they still find it a challenge to get a comment or a reply to the story from a family member. I’m not sure of the solution, but I wonder if stories/documentation based around ‘finding out about the interest/activity of the child-can you tell me more please’ rather than ‘this is the cool thing I have seen your child do-I hold the knowledge and I am going to share it with you’ kind of story.”
I’ve found that sometimes the reason that parents don’t engage is because educators and specialists use language, approaches or techniques that create barriers for parents – increasing their ‘performance anxiety’ and decreasing any chance of effective engagement. This can be particularly true for people who don’t speak the dominant language used at a centre such as new migrant families.
Kath Cooper comments “for some people, the teacher is in a very important role, and so requires a high level of respect. In this instance, the parent wouldn’t see what they do in the home as ‘teaching’ as such, because they are the parent, and not the teacher. Because of this perception, the parent wouldn’t share what happens at home with the teacher. And, in turn, would not question any comments or suggestions from teachers.”
“In other cases, parents think that what happens at home isn’t of any interest to the teachers, and so don’t share what they are doing at home. In one example, I had a three year old at work who was starting to show signs of stress, she was crying about things that didn’t usually make her cry, she was sleeping more, and seeking me out for cuddles. I approached her parent and asked if there was anything that she had noticed about the change in behaviour- and if anything was different at home that could explain the child’s behaviour. She initially said she didn’t think so, but after I asked a couple more questions she shared that the father had left a few weeks ago, but genuinely believed that him leaving wasn’t affecting her daughter’s behaviour. So sometimes parents don’t share because they really don’t think that children are affected as much as children are.”
Sometimes despite best efforts by teachers parents do not engage because of their own complex circumstances. Kath Cooper provides an interesting example about this.
I had a parent of a three and a half year old tell me that she wanted her son to learn to write his name. I wasn’t confident that writing his name was of interest to him, so I asked her what she was doing at home to support this desire, and what could he do so far. Her reply was ‘you are the teacher, that’s your job, not mine’. It was a shock to me to think a parent would give me such sole responsibility for her child’s learning.”
Using Storypark, educators are seeking ways to empower parents to be confident to share everyday information about their children so that a clearer and more holistic understanding can be gained about the child. When we share meaningful things about children sometimes it can all fit together like pieces of a puzzle and make more sense to us all why a child does something.
Storypark has massively increased parent and family engagement, and given parents a new way to communicate about difficult subjects that they may not wish to discuss in person.
Goodstart Early Learning evaluated the impact of Storypark after a 3 months trial period at 29 centres and found that
90% of families said they now have a stronger understanding of their child’s development
98.5% of of Educators said Storypark improved family engagement.
Storypark enables parents to share their own aspirations, grandparents can contribute. Users can share private medical needs or individual development plans privately between parents and teachers.
Even if we did rewind the clock 50 years to post war boom times, would parents have had more time?
Perhaps, but it was probably still limited and I don’t think there would have ever been a day when pick up and drop off wasn’t full of distractions.
Parents are children’s first teachers and (considering a child’s life-long learning journey) their most significant. Research shows that for all children, the quality of the home learning environment is more important for intellectual and social development than parental occupation, education or income. All parents, including those with low income and/or few qualifications, can improve their children’s progress and give them a better start at school by engaging in activities that engage and stretch the child’s mind.
If you’re an educator, what are the questions or provocations you have used to empower families with Storypark?
Outside of Storypark, what techniques have you found most useful in helping engaging parents in their child’s learning?