How one setting uses Tapestry to support parental engagement
by Emma Davis on October 13
One thing we do well in Early Years is parental engagement. We recognise that these important links with home benefit the children in our care. Tapestry has enabled many settings and schools to remain connected with families throughout this challenging time as we learn to live with COVID-19.
During the period of lockdown when many settings were closed, and now, as they have reopened or opened more widely, the issue of maintaining contact with families has been top of the agenda in Early Years. Although we can utilise technology such as emails and texts, or social networking sites for settings, these can be less personal and more of a general update. Online platforms like Tapestry can enable settings and families to engage and interact, retaining the partnerships already established. This can be done for individual children, meaning updates are personalised.
As a user of Tapestry for six years in an early years setting, I have seen how it has transformed partnerships with parents and carers. Its value lies in its accessibility and ease of use, for setting and home. With a similar feel to social media, it is a convenient way of connecting and documenting children’s progress through the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Not only is it a fantastic tool for sharing observations and keeping families informed of their child’s progress, it can also really make a difference in creating and maintaining connections.
There is no denying that we are living in very strange times. Now in the Autumn term and living with COVID, it’s apparent that our connections with families are more important than ever. With schools and settings being required to have extensive risk assessments in place, this has led to families being unable to enter the premises. This is a huge change for us in Early Years as open-door policies really do help facilitate relationships between setting and home. We miss parents and carers coming in with their children, having time to look around, play with their child, meet their friends, engage with the staff and feel reassured that we are a happy, safe space. COVID has taken this away from us. However, the safety of the setting as a space to play and learn and as a workplace must be a priority. Thankfully, we have been using Tapestry to try to combat some of the issues COVID has been causing us.
Getting to know the staff
Although we reopened for the Autumn term at the beginning of September, our provision is very different to how it would usually be. With many new starters, and families unable to enter the premises, how children would settle was a huge concern. I utilised Tapestry as a tool to introduce families to staff and the premises during a time when they were not able to enter the building. Photos of the staff were uploaded to Tapestry with information on each practitioner. This included snippets such as ‘What is your favourite book to read to children?’, ‘What are you most looking forward to in the setting this year?’ and ‘Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.’ It was hoped that these ‘pen portraits’ would enable parents and carers to begin to get to know staff, even though our physical interactions would be limited. I wanted families to feel reassured with us and with the provision, understanding that we had done everything possible to minimise the risk.
Being familiar with the learning environment
Photos and videos were uploaded to Tapestry so families could familiarise themselves with the areas of our setting, where children would be playing, the resources on offer indoors and outdoors and for them to act as a prompt for conversation. Together, they could talk about what their first day would look like, where they wash their hands when they come in, where they eat snack and lunch and where to hang their coat and bag in the cloakroom. All of these things are usually part of our settling in sessions, with children and their families being able to become acquainted with what we offer, how a usual session runs and the routine. Tapestry was a lifeline in this respect – enabling families to understand what a session looks like, even though they haven’t been able to see one in action.
Reassuring parents that children are settling in
During these first few weeks of the Autumn term, Tapestry has been used extensively to reassure parents and carers that children have settled well. It’s very unusual not to have families in the building – we love children bringing their parents in at drop off, having a look around and deciding what to play with. The absence of this has increased the importance of ensuring we are regularly sharing information on Tapestry about a child’s experiences. We want parents and carers to really feel a part of their child’s time with us, starting from the very first day. Tapestry is used to share photos and updates on how their child has settled, what they’ve played with and activities they have enjoyed. This will hopefully reassure parents and carers that even though their child might have been upset coming in, the tears didn’t last long.
Getting to know the children
Our first days back were made easier for both our new starters, and those children who re-joined us after nearly six months away, because families had been using Tapestry throughout our period of closure. When we reopened, we could use these photos and updates to settle the children, engage them in conversation and begin to build a rounded picture of them as individuals. The observations uploaded by families enabled us as staff to get to know the characters, personalities, likes and dislikes and interests of our new starters. For those re-joining us, we could ensure our provision met their needs in terms of interests and stages of development.
Many parents and carers were anxious about their child’s learning and development during lockdown, particularly those with children due to start school. To alleviate this, we uploaded play ideas every week, emphasising that there was no pressure at all to have a go at the activities – we fully understood that some families would be finding the time at home challenging, personally, professionally and financially.
Some of the activities uploaded to Tapestry had a particular aim, such as developing fine motor skills. Photos were posted with ideas of things families could try at home – some of these were accompanied by images from Instagram or Pinterest and others tied in with a focus we’d decided on, such as minibeasts. Recognising that some families had limited resources at home and were unable to source them due to shop closures, I applied for a grant through the Tesco COVID fund. Thankfully this was successful, and we were awarded £500 which was used to purchase resources to make up play and learning packs for home. These included items such as whiteboards, pens, crayons, notebooks, playdough, beads and scissors.
The learning packs aligned with the activities uploaded on Tapestry, enabling all families to engage. Parents and carers were encouraged to comment on the activities so we could build a picture of how children were accessing them. As an idea, some of our activities included games to encourage counting, listening, number recognition, mark making and storytelling. We have children attending between the ages of 2 to 4, and these activities were tailored to each child’s stage of development.
Building links with school
In short, Tapestry has continued to support us to build and sustain an important link between setting and home. I have always valued it as a two-way flow of information and, during COVID, this has never been more relevant. Many of our preschool children didn’t return after our closure in March, meaning they went straight on to school. However, we’ve been able to transfer the children’s Tapestry accounts over to schools, enabling teachers to build a picture of the children before even meeting them. Their progress, both in setting and during the period of lockdown has been documented for teachers to review and prepare them for the Autumn term. Without this, the experiences of children and families during lockdown would have been much harder to convey to schools.
As we move forwards in these challenging times, Tapestry will continue to be used by us as a celebration of children’s play, development and achievements, both in the setting and at home.