How Nicky Hadfield, EYFS Manager, developed a home/school partnership project
Nicky Hadfield, EYFS Manager, spoke to us about how she used I CAN resources to engage families and support children with their speech, language and communication.
September 2015, I was the Preschool Manager at Black Firs Primary School in rural Congleton, Cheshire. Year on year, we noticed that there was a noticeable deterioration in the speech, language and communication skills of children entering reception. This, along with depleting resources and speech and language therapy provision, led us to realise that we needed to target children with poor language skills from preschool age and support parents to develop these skills at home. We knew that anything we implemented at preschool would have minimum impact unless it was reinforced and repeated at home.
Research and Resources
Once I had ascertained the issues I wanted to address, I set up a home/school partnership project. I established the questions – what are we going to do? How are we going to do it? What will happen? I began with Google research and it was here I came across the I CAN shop. I quickly realised it had everything I needed. In order to make this project accessible and engaging for parents, I needed something tangible that explained how various activities can develop language skills. The I CAN resources were full of practical ideas for parents to carry out at home in addition to being adaptable to fit different topics and themes. We ended up using the Communication Cookbook, Ready Steady Talk, Early Talkers – Chatting with Children and the Chatter Matters DVD to form our project. Each week, we would have a language focus, for example ‘attention and listening’, from which we would centre our activities and a weekly song around, selecting these from the I CAN resources and uploading them to a blog for parents to access.
A key part of my research involved developing strategies to engage parents in a way that didn’t appear nagging, controlling or condescending. We were reliant on their commitment but it was important that the project was fun and enjoyable. I decided to put a pack together for parents that included picture cue cards for effective communication, an information sheet stating why and how we were going to implement the project, links to further advice and support (including the I CAN website), Chatter Matters DVD, the Kathy Burke Clip, the ‘Still Face’ video and a ‘Talking Buddy’ puppet.
The Parent Workshop
Once all the resources were ready to go we invited parents to a workshop to show them what they would be involved in. This was also a great opportunity for us to gain an insight into their current understanding of speech, language and communication (SLC). Many thought their child had strong communication skills because they were ‘chatty’, so we needed to address the misconception that communication referred to child’s talking alone. We explained the stages of development with listening and attention being the starting point – being able to listen and understand is essential to effective communication and a skill that lots of the children struggle with. We explored the importance of nonverbal communication and shared the ‘Still Face’ video – which was incredibly powerful. In doing so, parents who had arrived feeling that a ‘communication and language project’ was ‘not necessary’ for their child began to understand the value in the project and were keen to take part.
Following the workshop I published a weekly blog that focussed on different areas of language with relevant songs and activities. 60/60 parents subscribed to the blog and 60 packs went home to parents. We had a ’Lots to Say’ wall where parents could see what the new language focus was each week and view photos of their children taking part, helping to reinforce the content on the blog. This created a language rich environment for the children too. We found that parents really appreciated the ‘nudge’ to spend more quality time with their child, through simple, accessible activities. They would often arrive at school and mention what activities they had been doing in addition to asking for tips if an activity hadn’t gone to plan.
To ensure that this was accessible to all parents, we didn’t set specific goals as we knew that commitment levels would differ depending on family circumstance. We simply encouraged them to fit in as much as they could and provided tips on how to make this time efficient, such as activities that could take place at bedtime, during bath time, in the car on the way to school and so on. Some parents were able to complete activities daily, others maybe once a week. We strongly believed that sometimes was better than never and we were always emphasizing that to parents.
The impact on the children’s confidence was obvious. Over the year, we could see the positive difference it made to carpet time, circle time and buddy working, due to improved listening and attentiveness, as well as developing stronger social skills. On special occasions the nursery children would attend a whole school assembly and the Head Teacher often remarked on how attentive they were, considering the length of the assembly. One child’s SLC development in particular stood out. His speech at the beginning of the year was very difficult to understand and he lacked confidence, but following the project he blossomed and his self assurance improved greatly! His mum attributed this to the activities they carried out at home, stating that they didn’t feel like ordinary homework and it provided a great opportunity to spend time with her child. One of the biggest changes we noticed was in parents’ understanding and awareness of the importance of SLC. They realised that the focus couldn’t just be on Literacy and Maths; children needed SLC skills in order to be successful in all areas. Their engagement with the project meant their children improved their social, listening and concentration skills. Fellow staff and I have used these activities in various projects and working groups to strengthen awareness among other staff members too. It has been a hugely successful project and I am looking forward to discussing my next steps with I CAN.
For more information, please contact Nicky on firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out more about I CAN’s resources and training please visit the Training section of the I CAN website here.