Around three years ago, in an early learning centre, a child was placed under a protection order to attend five days a week because the child’s mum was unable to adequately support his learning and development. This is a scenario that plays out across Australia more than we would like. Many of you reading will be familiar with this type of story.
For any mother, this must be the most challenging of situations. Managing the circumstances that life has put in your path, unable (no matter how willing) to take full time care of your little boy or girl. It is also challenging for the centre, who are focused on the task of supporting this child’s needs while also trying to build a relationship with a mother who comes to pick up or a visit with head down, obviously nervous and tentative, unable to make eye contact or talk in more than one word answers to staff.
After a couple of years with this child in their care, this particular early learning centre began to use a tool called Storypark. A few weeks into their trial, they were doing a craft activity and they took photos and posted them on Storypark as a learning story. That evening, the staff saw that the mother had posted her own response to the story on Storypark. It was a photo of her and her son doing a craft activity and it simply said, “Look what my son and I did today.”
After two years of barely any communication, this mother had engaged with the centre to share a post that told a very different story to that of a hard to engage mother whose child attended the centre under a protective order. This post showed a mother engaged in her child’s learning and development, a mother who liked craft activities, a mother who wanted to talk and engage, but who needed a different medium to do it in. This post in Storypark showed a mother who loved her child.
This action gave staff a launching pad to say to that mother the next time she came to pick up her child, ”That was great what you did yesterday”. It allowed the mother for the first time to lift her eyes up and start talking to staff. It has created a situation where the mother now posts and responds to her child’s learning on Storypark everyday. She now visits and spends time in the centre with her child and other children doing craft activities. Despite the challenges of her life she now spends more time with her child, she is able to better understand both his needs and her own. Her caseworker and those who manage the protection order are able to get a new understanding about how this woman operates as a mother to her child.
This woman is of a generation where technology is the key to engagement – and she has found an avenue to say that, despite everything, she is being the best mum she can be.
That avenue is called Storypark.
In my interviews with a wide range of early childhood professionals who use Storypark, stories like the one above were not uncommon. People talked of improving connections between children and parents, parents and educators, overseas grandparents with their grandchildren and fly-in, fly-out dads with their children. Storypark uses the phones in our pocket to improve (not detract from) parents and other understanding of their children’s learning and development.
The best description I had of Storypark was: “a private Facebook for your child”. It is more than that, but as a way of describing how it works, that is a pretty good one. At the core of its functions, Storypark allows you to take photos or videos of a child or children, to turn those photos and videos into a learning story, to align that learning to a curriculum framework (like the Early Years Learning Framework) and post that in the child’s personal stream.
Educators and parents are also able to invite others into the child’s stream like inclusion support workers, grandparents or close friends. Everyone who is in the child’s stream will be notified of any posts that occur and they can comment, provided feedback or even post photos and stories of their own.
The impact of this is that parents are notified immediately when a post is made and can respond straight away, or as parents have told me it means not having to frantically look at an observations book at 5.30pm at pick up – instead they can look at it with greater reflection and time at 10pm with a glass of wine on their phone.
Narelle Dawson is the Director of Bribie Island Community Kindergarten. She says, “Storypark has changed our world. But, while 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, “Reggio” 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 also responding to the teachers’ reflection. In doing so, they are learning so much more about their child and in some instances even making suggestions that contribute to planning and the emergent curriculum.
This is what I love about Storypark. It is not just about saving time and making alignment to standards or frameworks easier. It does that, but it also improves the quality. The quality of parent engagement, but also the quality of service by staff.
It was best expressed to me by Brooke Townsend who runs Good Start Early Learning in Mosman, she said:
“The unexpected benefit was the improved relationships with my team and our growth in professional development. I have been with this team for nearly four years, but in the last year those relationships have really grown through Storypark. It is through the everyday conversations around children, planning, our weaknesses and building our confidence as we try and ask questions and work collaboratively.” One of the many things that early childhood professionals could teach their colleagues at higher levels of education is how to engage and work with parents who are the first teachers of their children. At times, despite the best skills in this area, it can be hard to catch parents attention during those short moments available to us. Storypark is a tool that allows early childhood professionals to engage and share with parents in the 21st century. It allows that to happen with the child at the centre and with a commitment to every child’s learning and development. It presents an exciting opportunity as the sector continues to explore and engage with the way technology can have a positive impact on the lives of children and families.