Communication skills, learning how to listen and ask open questions are features of early years training, but the focus is on how practitioners can hold a dialogue with young children - not adults.
However, a key aspect of the Early Years Foundation Stage is working in partnership with parents. This is an area where sometimes practitioners can struggle, as they have not fully developed the skills and confidence to interact easily with adults.
'I think a lot of the sector workforce has been trained very much on how to have a dialogue with children but not necessarily with their parents,' says Professor Chris Pascal, who with Professor Tony Bertram, her co-director of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood, Birmingham, runs a course for Early Excellence on developing a dialogue with parents.
The course has grown out of an international project conducted by the Centre called 'Children Crossing Borders', which aimed to capture the voices of those parents who are often lacking the confidence to participate fully in dialogues about their children's learning and development.
'What we know is that the home environment is key if you want to have the maximum impact,' says Professor Pascal. 'You need to be as successful in building relationships with the parents are you are with the child.
'Most of the training that early years practitioners have is around child-focused skills rather than adult-focused skills. Parents know so much about their children - we try to get practitioners to listen to the parents and get into listening mode. It is about building a professional relationship with parents that is supportive and companionable. But practitioners must not get too close - you are not taking over the role of the parent or carer.'
She says the problems practitioners face when they are lacking in the confidence and skills to communicate with adults can often be compounded when trying to build a collaborative working relationship with the families who are hardest to reach and most challenging to engage - and who are most in need of support.
'It can be challenging for practitioners, who have maybe not had much life experience, to engage with and understand the diversity of the modern world,' she says. 'There is a skill set to this and if you are really going to respect difference, you have to understand your own value base.'
THE EXPERT'S VIEW
Kathy Brodie, Early Years Professional and trainer, says, 'Working with parents as partners is a strong element of both the key person and social and emotional development aspects of the EYFS.
'A good course should look at more than just sending newsletters home. We know from research that the home learning environment is so important to a child's development. We also know the value of an effective key person, so building up that relationship at the outset will assist a child's sense of security.
'The starting point for working with parents and building up a partnership is making a home visit before a child starts in nursery. Time spent on home visits is never wasted.
'A good course will remind you that communication is a two-way engagement. Sending home newsletters or documents littered with jargon is not working in partnership with parents. Letters need to be clearly written and free of jargon and spelling mistakes. You have to use vocabulary parents understand and are comfortable with.
'You must be sensitive to parents and communicate with them in ways that are appropriate. I know of a nursery in a college where many of the parents are students and they like to be texted with information and updates, which might not be the preferred method of communication at other settings.
'A training session on partnership working will get you considering ways to involve parents more, such as inviting them in for reading or maybe baking days or holding dads-only days.
'Parents' evenings are you as a professional talking with parents about their child's development and learning. On an invited day when the child is there, you want the parent to see you empathise with the child.
'A good course will help practitioners to look at their setting from the parents' viewpoint and consider how welcoming and informative and open you are with parents. Parents are your advocates, so listen to them and respond constructively.
Don't see complaints as criticisms. Sometimes they can be really helpful and lead to improvements in your setting.
'A good course will underline that you should be friendly with the parents, but not necessarily friends. If you get to know the the family, you will understand the child better, which will make your work easier. If you know the child well, you can maybe identify a problem early on and you could say, "He is a bit quiet today, is everything okay?"
'Be sensitive and aware of parents' routines so you know when they are usually available to talk. I worked in a setting where many of the parents worked shifts. People coming in after a night shift to drop off their child were quite often happy to talk at 7am at the end of their working day, although it was at the start of the nursery's day.
'Partnership working with parents is not just about ticking boxes and saying we have sent out a newsletter. It can be a highly rewarding and valuable partnership which makes the practitioner's work more rewarding and easier, and ultimately it enhances the child's experience at nursery.'
16 August - Working with Parents. A morning course offered by Professional Support and Development at PSD Ltd's Children's Centre, St Aldhelm's Church Hall, Windmill Road, London N18 1PA. T: 020 8364 7700 www.psdltdntework.com
22 September - Developing Dialogues with Parents about Children's Learning and Development led by Professor Chris Pascal with Professor Tony Bertram, directors of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood, Birmingham, and held at Early Excellence, The Old School, Outane, Huddersfield. T. 01422 311314 www.earlyexcellence.com
18 November - Supporting the Needs of Children and Families: a focus on working with two-year-olds and vulnerable families. A one-day course by child psychologist Jennie Lindon offered by Early Excellence - details as above.
Working in Partnership with Parents One-day course by National Day Nurseries Association at National Early Years Enterprise Centre, Longbow Close, Huddersfield, HD2 1GQ. For up to 22 people on a programme; www.ndna.org.
Working in Partnership with Parents Online course offered by the Virtual College, developed with NDNA. T: 01943 605976 www.virtual-college.co.uk
Parents as Partners Led by held by Chris Blanshard and Lizzie Chittleboro of Hand on Heart EYFS Training, West Sussex, at venues/dates to suit clients. T. 07881684879 or 07791 791161 www.handonheart.co.uk
Developing effective partnerships with parents/carers Courses led by Yvonne Batson-Wright of Training Designs Ltd at venues/dates to suit clients. Course can be 3 or 6 hours in length, to suit the needs of the setting. T: 0845 643 4231 or 07917 095 967 www.trainingdesigns.com
Parents as Partners Two-day course offered by Acorn Childcare, for groups of 20. T. 0845 371 0953 www.childcaretraining.co.uk
Parent Partnership Three-hour course by Sheona de Quincey of Discovery Training Services, based in Cumbria but courses at venues/dates nationwide to suit client. Minimum group size 10. T: 016977 46709 or 07594 341725
Working with Parents, a short course offered by Jace Training. Courses can be held for groups of 10 people at your setting or enrol at one of the Jace Training Centres. T: 0845 2417738 www.jace-training.co.uk
Northern Ireland Working in Partnership with Parents, nine hour course - three three-hour sessions held by Early Years Organisation. T: 02890662825 www.early-years.org
Next month: multi-agency working