Management: Working with parents - Joining forces to fine-tune service

Annette Rawstrone
Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A voluntary managed nursery shows Annette Rawstrone how it establishes and promotes the keen involvement of parents.

Emails between two parents and Auden Place Community Nursery's manager were still being swapped at 3am on the deadline day for Nursery World Awards 2010 entries. Such is the dedication and enthusiasm for their north London nursery. And their determination paid off - they won the 'Working with parents' award.

'Our work is all about engaging with families,' says manager Mikki Parkes. 'Auden Place recognises parents as the first and most important educators of their children. All the staff see themselves as partners with parents in providing care and education for their child.'

In a voluntary managed setting, the goodwill and involvement of parents is vital for the nursery's continued operation. The nursery is overseen by a management committee of parents and community representatives who meet monthly, with a creche and refreshments provided. All parents are welcome to attend these meetings and are encouraged to have input. 'It is not just those on the management committee who have good ideas,' explains Ms Parkes. 'It is also important to be transparent and not hide anything. Parents should be able to see what we are spending money on so they understand where their fees are going.'

Auden Place has become expert at harnessing parents' skills. An accountant acts as the setting's treasurer, an architect was very involved in the nursery's recent building work and another parent has expertise in fundraising and grants. A mother who works in human resources has helped conduct staff recruitment interviews, which led to Ms Parkes changing her interviewing technique, while a computer expert father oversees the nursery's website. They also get free legal advice from a lawyer and another parent helps with marketing.

Additionally, parents contribute DIY skills, such as putting up shelves, and help to provide, make and care for resources used in the children's activities. Volunteer parents also attend the two trips that the nursery organises each month, with parents notified of planned outings a term in advance so they can arrange time off work.

MEETING AND EXCHANGING

Staff recognised that new parents often found transition the hardest, so they introduced 'Parent week'. This is when the allocated key person and manager or deputy do a home visit and then encourage the parent to spend a few hours each day at the nursery with their child, free of charge. Following this is a settling-in week when the child is left for a few hours, building up to a full session.

Ms Parkes says, 'The home visits are good because the key person can play with the child at home, where they feel comfortable. Parents also get to see us warts and all during the week; it's a much better introduction than when we show them around. It helps the parents feel more confident when it comes to settling the child in, which rubs off on the child.'

Continued interaction between staff and parents is regarded as essential. 'No-one will ever know a child better than their parents. If we work closely with them, then the children benefit in every way,' says Ms Parkes. Her office is by the front door so that she can see all parents arrive and greet them personally.

Auden Place aims to informally exchange information daily, but also organises parents' evenings twice a year, and a coffee morning is held at the end of every month to help parents build friendships. This is run on different days so that more parents have a chance of fitting it in around work commitments.

Stay and Play sessions are offered every week from 8am to 9.30am, when parents are invited to take part in activities with their child. The children enjoy showing off their setting and the parents can pick up ideas.

STAFF ETHOS

Inevitably, while some parents respond to all e-mails, attend meetings and nursery trips, there are always some who are harder to engage. 'For the more reluctant parents I find that they will often respond by e-mail,' Ms Parkes says. 'I then encourage them to chat to me when they come into the nursery. Staff also directly invite parents to things such as Stay and Play.

'We are lucky to have male staff members, which I think helps some of the dads to not feel intimidated by coming in. But we do have to accept that some parents do not want to get involved or their jobs are too demanding.'

Ms Parkes attributes the nursery's success at interacting with parents to the staff, 75 per cent of whom first came to Auden Place as Level 2 students. 'We have handpicked many of our staff through good students. They have often worked only with us, so fully understand and share our ethos of the importance of working in close partnership with parents.'

 

PARENTS' VIEWS

Vanita James says, 'Parent week helped with the guilt of leaving my ten-month-old daughter for the first time. It was very reassuring to meet our key person in my home and has set the tone for the rest of our time here.

'There's always lots of communication with staff. Recently my child was having tantrums and I had presumed it was just at home, until our key person mentioned it. We discussed strategies which meant that we were consistent in our approach.'

Sylvia Morrison says, 'It is like a little community here, which is down to the nursery staff and the efforts they make with the parents. The staff are always happy to give advice, such as helping with potty training.

'I enjoy attending the trips because I get to meet my child's friends. It is good to build a relationship with them and to get to know my child's world. There is more to the nursery than just dropping off in the morning and collecting at night. I feel it is much more beneficial to the children when parents have so much input.'

 

WORKING TOGETHER

A parent complained about the nursery's 8am to 6pm opening hours and e-mailed the manager with a list of nurseries that were open longer. Mikki Parkes contacted all the nurseries and spoke to them about how they managed to operate extended hours. She used online Survey Monkey to consult the parents on their views. The findings were then discussed at a management committee meeting, where a parent suggested operating additional hours on a pay-as-you-go basis. Now the nursery is open from 7.30am to 6.30pm. Parents buy a block of ten sessions in advance and contact the nursery if they need to stay late at work or bring their child earlier in the morning.

- Next month's management feature (24 February) will look at enabling environments.

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