How imaginative resources ‘motivate’ home learning

Written by: Maureen Lee, early years adviser to Best Practice Network
Monday, January 7, 2019

Find out how one setting sent ‘borrow bags’ home with children to help parents understand how they could support their ‘fundamental movements’ as a precursor to skills used in games and specific sports.

Debbie Giles reads Sammy Squirrel to her pre-schoolers.
Debbie Giles reads Sammy Squirrel to her pre-schoolers.

The Department for Education’s recent Home Learning Summit and associated policy document, Improving the home learning environment: a behaviour change model, has been published to support the 2028 goal to halve the proportion of children who don’t achieve at least expected levels across goals in communication, language and literacy by the end of reception.

Although it is irritating (and unhelpful) that the home learning environment is reduced to yet another dehumanising acronym (HLE), the document is useful, not least because it begins with a statement that everyone involved in early years should put on their wall or home screen: ‘We have an early years sector to be proud of, underpinned by the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). e improvements in children’s outcomes at age ve that we have seen since 2013 are testament to the commitment and dedication of early years practitioners across the country.’

It goes on to emphasise that what happens at home is a major factor in determining children’s development, emphasising this is particularly key in communication and language. It sets out helpful ideas for community and business to sign up to support families as well as approaches the early years profession can use to promote the importance of the home learning environment.

Debbie’s story – introducing ‘borrow bags’
At Best Practice Network we are always keen to hear from practitioners who are already doing sterling work with parents. We want to learn from the very best approaches and then develop professional development programmes that will enable practitioners in every setting to make a di erence for children.

Debbie Giles is a manager at Freshford Pre-School in Bath where she has developed a ‘borrow bag’ system for parents focused on physical development. She explains: ‘A while back I realised that children were accessing many different physical experiences in the setting, but parents were not really aware of what their children were achieving in this area. To promote these healthy lifestyle choices in a fun, engaging way for both children and adults, I introduced a set of ‘borrow bags’.

'The idea was to use them to implement a ‘fundamental movement skills’ approach, which involves various body parts and provides the basis of physical literacy. These are the foundational movements, or precursor patterns, to the more specialised and complex skills used in play, games and specific sports. They include balancing, running, jumping, catching, hopping, throwing, galloping, skipping, leaping and kicking.

‘The borrow bags each focus on one fundamental movement skill and use a familiar toy character as the transitional object, such as Caspar Cat or Sammy Squirrel. After I had led group activities with the ‘borrow bags’ I devised a rota to ensure that, over time, each child would access this bag. I enclosed an information sheet describing the initiative and detailing how parents can support their child, together with resources to help them. These included the story behind each fundamental movement skill, resources to use, and a scrapbook for the parents to help their child create a diary entry of their adventures with the character. The group activities I had led were published as observations in each child’s learning journal for parents to access online. This gave the parents an insight into the activities I led in the setting, enabling them to use these as a starting point for discussions with their own child.

‘Caspar Cat focuses on stretching muscles and moving the body in different ways. Alongside this, it also encourages open-ended play using items that can create a cat – hoops, cones, scarves and beanbags. Sammy Squirrel focuses on ball skills and encourages the children to practise rolling a ball and controlling it while changing direction. They are then inspired to handle the ball in di erent ways, developing their throwing, catching and kicking skills as well as working in pairs. is supports their communication skills and encourages parents to realise the importance of negotiating and listening to ideas, and responding in appropriate, positive ways.’

Parent workshops
Following on from the success of the borrow bags, Debbie now regularly invites parents to come in and take part in workshops that focus on one area of learning. She says: ‘We also schedule a physical development session as another useful way to support them with this initiative, allowing them to observe and join in with a physical development activity and then ask questions its purpose and benefits.

‘I felt that our style of engaging more with parents needed a new slant, to capture their interest and o er something di erent from simply sharing a book. e fundamental movement skills training inspired me to be creative with the borrow bags which de nitely empowered the parents to be able to support their child’s development in this prime area of the EYFS. e support I gave was also key to the initiative’s success: in the observations I shared with them I modelled language parents could use to develop their children’s learning, encouraging open- ended questions throughout to promote the process of

the story being a joint e ort. rough engaging parents in this detailed and tangible way, they were able to fully understand the strength of their in uence on their child’s learning. Feedback has been extremely positive.’

Jennie’s story – building community
Jennie Heath is another early years teacher. Jennie runs a childminding business in Essex and also tutors trainees on our Early Years Initial Teacher Training programme. Here she explains how she engages children and families in a community-focused approach.

She says: ‘As a childminder, my practice is very much centred in the community. As well as offering education and care for under- fives, I provide wrap-around care for school-aged children and we all walk to school, dropping o older children. Many of the younger children will eventually attend the school and are already learning about its people, physical environment and rules – so much so that they are able to take their parents to the classroom they will be attending on their first formal visit.

‘I strongly believe that positive community engagement and forging intergenerational connections is beneficial to both young and old. Studies show that children and young people make positive changes in their attitudes towards older adults, with increased tolerance, acceptance and respect. Children participating in studies where closer intergenerational relationships have been fostered, show better psychological outcomes such as reduced anxiety and increased confidence and self-worth. Social outcomes also improve as children become more confident to talk to older adults. Children exposed to enriched language and social experience develop a greater sense of past and present. Interactions with older adults also improve children’s relationships with older family members, especially where they have limited contact with their own extended family.

‘But the long-term effects of engagement with the community go beyond just the interrelations of the individuals. Involvement in community activities starts to build up a sense of belonging and value that is crucial in building a child’s own identity. Through their interactions with new people and different environments, children can grow emotionally, physically and intellectually and can constantly question their understanding of the world around them, leading to higher order thinking.

‘I am convinced that speech, language and communications skills are enhanced by community involvement. One of the earliest phases of language skill development is the understanding of sound. What does that honk of the horn mean? When the pedestrian crossing beeps, is it safe to cross? Sounds and their meanings are picked up when we interact with the environment around us and it is important for children that they experience this in real life, not just in role play. We need to vocalise thoughts and ideas when in the community can be a powerful driver to developing language. The simple act of going into a shop and asking for the fruit you would like can be an experience that boosts confidence and develops language skills.

‘I am also part of a group of childminders that runs a local baby and toddler group. This is a long-running group and now has grandparents bringing grandchildren along when once they brought their children. We find the children are very happy to go up to the older adults in the room and start talking to them. Sometimes these children have known speech delays but are happy to talk to someone who will smile back and laugh along with them.

‘The group helps us to link with local organisations that might be more di cult to access as lone childminders. Recently we have had visits from a local guide dog for the blind representative (with one of the dogs), a member of school crossing patrol service supporting our road crossing role-play and the local country care team who ran a mini bug hunt in the garden.

‘The feedback from parents about these events has been wholly positive. They had not previously been aware of what these organisations can offer, and the organisations are also pleased they can reach a new audience.The benefits to the children were immeasurable. One little boy was fascinated by the worm he found on the bug hunt and spent the day saying ‘worm’, complete with hip wiggle and hand motion. This was one of his very first words and a lovely thing to be able to share with his parents.

‘Another community activity that our children and the toddler group participate in together is the local Christmas tree festival held where local schools and organisations decorate a Christmas tree in the local church. The children create their own decorations which they can then visit with their families during the festival. It is lovely for these youngest members of our community to be involved. We then take our minded children around looking at all the trees from the different groups and commenting on who we know who might be involved. The children often say, “My brother is in Beavers and that’s his tree” or “ at’s the tree from the school”, picking up more ideas and links as to how they and their family members are all part of the community.

‘Interactions with the local community can also involve corporate bodies, professional organisations or groups related to a specific field of work, for example the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) ambassadors who either work or have worked in a related field and can go into schools, nurseries or local community and cover exciting STEM activities to widen children’s learning and experiences. I am an ambassador myself and find that these experiences can engage children in new ways, fostering their wider understanding of the world. ese visits also generate interest in STEM careers – seeds are sown that take root later on.

‘In my EYITT tutoring role I am able to pass on my experiences to help trainee early years teachers forge stronger links with their setting’s local people and resources and gain the con dence to immerse their children more in the community. I have put together a bank of ideas about bringing the community into a setting as well as going out, thinking about different types of local environment and variable accessibility. We should take note again of the proverb “it takes a whole village to raise a child” and acknowledge that good interactions with the community and different members of local society are hugely important for our children’s holistic development.’ 

  • Key points:
    Time is so often a barrier for parents in supporting children’s learning at home – a new slant and motivating resources can encourage quality interactions
    Introducing children to their local community brings mutual benefits – intergenerational approaches in particular
    Children’s confidence in speaking and listening is enhanced when parents or older members of the community are guided and supported by a skilled early childhood professional

Further information about Best Practice Network’s early years programmes and support, including Early Years Initial Teacher Training, is available here 
Best Practice Network


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