Children, families, and educators are reaping the benefits of a new communications tool in our child care centres.
With the goal of increasing engagement with our educators and families, Family Day began implementing a new communications tool in our child care centres in 2017.
Called Storypark, the tool is an innovative, internet-based platform that is used to document children’s learning experiences. It is being gradually rolled out across the agency, as we evaluate it along the way. “We wanted to raise the profile of our educators and make learning more visible,” says Lisa Shortall, Manager of Training at Family Day. “We chose Storypark to put into our centres because we wanted better communication among children, families and educators.” It started with a pilot project at five test sites (Hickory Wood, Philip Pocock, Thornhill, Divine Infant and Markville) in 2017. We ran Storypark in those centres for a year before bringing it to another five sites in 2018. We aim to have a total of 30 sites live by 2020. Briefly, this is how things work: Family Day educators create online “profiles” for children and use camera-enabled tablets to digitally capture moments through photos and videos. Educators can then write brief stories to expand the photos/videos and attach “learning tags” (Key Development Indicators) that relate to HighScope curriculum learning outcomes. These stories are then shared with parents via a secure, web-based portal. Parents can view the stories on their mobile devices or computers, respond with comments, and choose to share them with other family members or friends. “Storypark works by helping our educators and families work together to record, share and extend children’s learning,” says Shortall.
Benefits to parents
The benefits have been noteworthy. Storypark has enabled parents to get more involved in their children’s learning, and support their understanding of Family Day’s curriculum. “Because parents are not with us each day, it’s a great way for them to see how their children are doing,” says Mary Gatti, Supervisor of Markville Child Care Centre “It’s like a Facebook or Instagram feed for children, but it’s extremely secure.” Parents are in full control of their child’s digital footprint and can decide who has access to their child’s information. Dionne Andrews, Supervisor of St. Herbert Child Care Centre, says she has found parents to be really receptive of Storypark. “It shows the parents how children are bonding, learning to be self-sufficient, and how they are getting along with their educators,” says Andrews. “For instance, parents can see that children are not just playing all day – they are learning. For instance, it might look like they are just cutting up spaghetti, but with Storypark we can show them how the children are actually honing their fine motor skills.” To this end, Andrews recalls a particular activity where Storypark helped parents see learning in progress. Educators at her centre set up an apparatus for toddlers that had a long plumbing tube attached to it. Then children tried to put a variety of objects through the tube to see what could go through. “By creating a series of photos, parents were able to see learning happen,” says Andrews. “It showed parents what the children were doing, provided explanations, and gave intention behind the activity – they could see their children learning cause and effect.”
Educators up and running
Storypark also has a variety of benefits for our educators. Linda Saad, Program Consultant at Family Day, says it helps to “raise the profile of the educators as pedagogical leaders, and it helps them better interact with other staff and with parents.” Gatti agrees. She says Storypark helps educators connect better with the HighScope curriculum and with “How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years,” a professional learning resource for educators in child and family programs. “It’s one thing to read about this, but quite another to live it and watch it progress in your centres.” Gatti says it is also helping to build stronger educator-family relationships. She recalls a time when a new toddler started at her centre and cried a lot during pick-up and drop-off times during the first few weeks. “We started taking photos, showed them to the child, and explained that we were going to send them to her mom. The child started to feel better and her mom was happy to see the photos. It showed the mom that even though her child was crying when she dropped her off, she was actually okay during the day. It really gave her peace of mind.”
Children gaining opportunities
Storypark benefits children as well by offering enhanced learning opportunities, providing feedback and reinforcement from families, and stimulating language and ideas. “Storypark adds value to children’s learning and what they are doing in child care,” says Saad. “They can see that what they are doing is important and that their educators are writing stories about it.” Saad says it also bridges the gap between child care and home. Because families can see what their children enjoy doing each day, they can build upon those experiences and help with continuity for the child between centre and home. It’s been a win-win-win for parents, educators, and children. Says Shortall: “It really raises awareness and gives everyone a deeper understanding of our HighScope curriculum.” And Storypark doesn’t have to end when a child leaves Family Day. Parents are able to keep their child’s online profile active as long as they like to relive important moments, milestones, and activities throughout the years.
To measure Storypark’s effectiveness, Family Day conducted an evaluation in 2018 of Family Day educators and parents. Educators were positive, noting that they were able to easily document the learning experiences of the children in their care and share them with the parents. At the same time, parents were happy with Storypark and felt engaged (only one per cent opted out of allowing their child to be a part of Storypark). Parents also reported being more aware of their children’s learning experiences while at child care. Here are a few of the comments they shared: “Thank you, educators, for sharing such moments about our child, which give us such immense happiness and pride.” “This is such a wonderful development. My child has become more confident and comfortable with her surroundings.” “It’s a joy to see our son’s involvement, initiation and engagement with other children. Thank you for catching and sharing these moments.” Based on the evaluation, it was noted that Family Day is already meeting many of the intended outcomes for Storypark. Feedback from the survey will be applied as we complete the project rollout across the agency