East Sussex County Council's ‘Interacting with Babies (0-18 months)’ collaborative research project was designed to enable practitioners to undertake research as a form of continual professional development. Each setting chose their own question which specifically applied to them, with examples including the importance of peer-to-peer interactions, the significance of non-verbal communication and the benefits of using singing as an interaction.
Over all three phases of the project, 36 settings, 146 practitioners and 593 families were involved.
An assessment of impact was carried out at the end of the project to measure whether the research impacted practice and improved outcomes for children. The observation of practice found significant improvements overall, with settings that had the weakest practice at the start seeing the biggest improvement. A self-assessment questionnaire covering nine different aspects of communication and interaction also showed significant increases in practitioner knowledge after embarking on the project.
As a result of their research, settings improved parent partnerships, finding out more about how parents interact with children while changing nappies, which songs are sung at home and which forms of non-verbal communication are used. Many settings also started sharing songs and Makaton signs with parents.
Each setting provided a case study at the end of its project which has been shared with all participants, colleagues and alumni early years professionals at Brighton University. These case studies clearly showed the impact on practice and how outcomes for children improved as a result of the work.
Practitioners visited each other's settings and regular network meetings to increase learning beyond their own project's focus. Some settings involved were part of larger nursery groups, and have now shared their research findings beyond East Sussex.
The project has given participating baby room practitioners a voice and a strong ethos of research and reflective practice. Practitioners of all qualification levels were able to express themselves, question, assert, challenge, defend, explore and examine their behaviour, motivations and practice when supported to become researchers.
The research element meant any changes made to practice had a solid foundation. One participant said, ‘Doing research has given the nursery a reason for making changes and a basis for justifying those changes to the company.’ Another nursery said it continued to give practitioners time out each week to keep abreast of research trends.
The project also focused attention on the importance of what happens in baby rooms and highlighted that the work in these rooms is the foundation of everything that follows. Practitioners do not just ‘play’ with babies all day; it is a highly complex role. Staff meetings within settings following on from the project have allowed links to be forged between baby room practitioners and those working with other age groups, and have encouraged an increase in mutual respect and understanding.
“Innovative and inclusive project
The Old Forge Day Nursery, Baby Room Project, Derby
For early years provision displaying exemplary practice in working with the youngest children