Play and the Parent Problem...
I love the picture above. I love the fact that the teacher, sitting behind the security of her desk, seems to be serenely planning her great escape, with her passport ready to go and a stash of brochures piled in her drawer. The plan of the boat in front of her suggests that she is choosing which cabin she's going to book on the cruise that's going to take her far, far away from the four walls of the classroom and out into the big wide world.
Far away from the bored children, the rows of desks and desk-bell which I can only assume children come up and press if they want her attention. The girl in the red dress is lost in a day dream while the boy at the back looks lost in boredom. The whole scene seems to summarise our classrooms today too, with children and teachers increasingly disconnected from their experience.
Teachers may have moved on from wearing a lovely party dress to teach in and certainly don't find spare time in the day (or evening for that matter) to plan holidays or even what to eat that evening, but the disconnection is still there. To my mind it all comes back to time: time to reflect, to breathe, to truly make time itself. Our educational experience today seems insistent on time being something that has to be crammed full of marking, meetings, assessments, planning, performance management, learning walks. book scrutiny, mock-steds, homework club, on and on and on.
It means that we find less and less time for ourselves on a personal and professional level but equally less and less time for the one group of people who really do need our time: parents.
I was chatting to a Headteacher friend yesterday and we were collectively bemoaning the UK Government's obsession with looking outwards towards other countries' education systems to somehow try and cherry pick the 'best bits' whilst all the time failing to look at what our own children need right here and now. It's as though other countries have somehow cracked it and can offer us a simple panacea for our broken-ness.
We look towards Singapore for our mathematics and turn to the Scandinavian countries for the lessons that they might teach us. One of the things that Finland for example seem to have learned for themselves is the importance of making time for teachers. Time for ongoing, high quality. meaningful professional development and reflection, time for truly connecting to children through a more family-based model of interactions and critically more time for parents. They see the value in parental connections. recognising that strong two-way dialogue is vital for successful child development.
Here in the UK it seems to be a different story. I know from first hand experience just how hard it is to find time. PPA is most commonly spent trying to sort the nitty gritty day-today, home times are a rush and a push of snatched messages. Because teachers aren't afforded quality reflection time then time becomes squeezed to the nth degree. Time to communicate: how difficult it can be sometimes to find quality enriching time for parents.
I've also been guilty of making assumptions about parents, I've preconceived their ability to parent, put a reading book in a book bag doubting that it'll get read then throwing hands up in the air when it doesn't, all the while knowing that it should be down to me to make those positive connections and lend my expertise to parents. So it becomes a bit like a parent lottery. There's a danger that parents become part of the outcomes for performance management rather than for an ally in developing children's 'soul-ness'.
So when I say, it's time to make time for parents, I don't say that glibly. I recognise the challenge. I know how hard it can be. I've recently been invited to explore the research into parent partnerships and all the evidence shows that parental involvement is critical to children's educational journey and this goes beyond just home reading. It's about community, it's about closeness. Parents do want the best for their children, they just may not know what 'the best' looks like. Parents do care but many have barriers such as language, confidence, literacy, preconceptions and personal history.
And that's why for me, it all comes back to play. Demonstrating to parents that children can thrive on a different diet - a diet of curiosity, high engagement and connection to learning.
I recognise that I could always do more for parents, but I always tried to show all of them that school can be different to their own past experiences, that play does have a power like nothing else and the beauty of it is that is alive before their eyes - they see how play and choice and excitement and wonder can impact so profoundly on children.
Play begins to work on your behalf - it sings for you. Yes, you still need to find that time for parents and yes that can be challenging in amongst all the other pressures that school's seem to want to put on Early Years, but at least let your passion and your practice shine a light for on your behalf. It may be small step towards parent partnership but it's a potent one...
I'd love to hear how you've created positive parental partnerships - please email me or comment below if you've had successes that you'd like to share, even if it's just one top tip!
Here's mine to get us started and it's probably an obvious one: smile - it means a huge deal to parents first thing :)
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Can I Go Play Now..? is committed to widening the understanding of the magic of children's play as an educational tool. Child-centred, play-based learning is where it's truly at....