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We’re going to start with a simple one.
Parents are online. Well, we all are these days.
But talking to people where they are is the key to getting their attention and creating a two-way dialogue. You have access to people at all times during the day, and whether you’re using messaging services, email or texts, you can get information to people easily and start conversations at any time.
The best part? They can access everything right from their pockets.
There’s nothing sadder than a carefully written newsletter or permission form, sat forlornly, crumpled up at the bottom of a child’s bag. Or left in the bottom of the car footwell after being hastily thrown into a parent’s hands at pick-up time.
But the same can’t be said for online communication. As we’ve already mentioned, this is partly because you’re speaking to people where they are. But it’s also about having everything accessible at all times, so that they can choose to save it and read it later when they have the time. That's why, if you're thinking about software, you should absolutely zone in on the parent communication features.
Parent engagement is one of the more woolly concepts that Ofsted evaluates nurseries on (and this is Ofsted, so that’s saying something). But there’s no doubt that they do take into account the extent to which you work in partnership with parents when they’re assessing your setting.
As a result, having some clear-cut examples of how you encourage two-way communication with parents is really important, along with how you take steps to encourage further child development outside of the nursery. And having these details online and easily accessible makes displaying this to Ofsted significantly easier.
Can’t find that note from your last meeting with Amelia’s parents? Struggling to remember whether you let David’s mum and dad know about the trip next week?
Problem solved. When you’re keeping your communication online, you can easily pull up old messages and conversations, and keep on top of everything that you’ve sent. What’s more, you have some back-up if you need to show proof that you’ve made parents aware of something, or asked for certain permissions.
Having software that lets you access all of that not only makes your life easier, but it strengthens the bond between you and the parents. Building trust and open communication isn't always easy, but making sure you're both up-to-date at all times is a perfect place to start.
This follows on from the last point we made. Keeping all your communication in one place sure does make your life a lot easier.
Rather than scattered notes from every snatched conversation or phone call, along with messages and the odd homing pigeon, half the job is compiling all this into one neat to-do list. With online communication, everything you need is right there at your fingertips.
One thing many nurseries worry about with online communication is that it will actually take up more of their time.
But this simply isn’t the case anymore. There’s a certain amount of parent communication that is absolutely necessary every day, and being able to quickly message or email a parent, rather than spend half an hour trying to get them on the other end of the phone, could save you hours. Add on the possibility to send automatic messages and reminders, and you’re saving yourself hours on the phone every month.
Understandably, lots of managers concerned about the amount of genuine contact they get with parents. After all, a few messages back and forth just doesn't have the same importance as a face-to-face meeting or even a few minutes on the phone.
Luckily, that’s kind of the point. The information gathering, the meeting reminders, the regular updates – leave that to the online communication. That way, those conversations you have with parents face to face can be saved for the really meaningful discussions that matter. And what's more, a lot of online solutions have video call options if you do want some more face-to-face time.
One of the nicest things about online communication is that it’s much easier to be visual. While you need to make sure that all of your pictures are safe when you’re sharing them online, parents just love being able to see pictures of their little ones during the day, and what they’re doing.
Compared to a weekly newsletter with a few pictures of other people’s children, online communication really opens parents up to being able to feel involved and present in their child’s day. Just another way to bring them closer to the nursery.
So we’ve said that the key to online communication is easier and more regular two-way communication with parents. So how does this affect the children?
Well, one clear way is the way in which you can provide better care for them. For one, you’re able to build a better picture of what home life is like for the children, understanding their preferences and any issues or problems they have. What’s more, parents can better understand what’s happening within the nursery, and you can contribute more to a discussion on how they can carry on their child’s development at home.
One great positive of smoother parent communication is the extent to which they become a part of your nursery’s community.
Traditional modes of communication can feel a little impersonal in comparison to the more regular, personalised messaging that comes with online communication. In combination with face-to-face time, you can end up building the strongest parent partnerships possible. Their support can make it a whole lot easier to plan events for parents, and you can also use their help on any nursery trips you go on. What’s more, they can play a huge role in the word-of-mouth marketing you get in the local area.
Nurseries who turn a blind eye to any problems that parents might have are destined for difficulty. There’s no doubt that you can’t address every single parent concern and request, and you probably shouldn’t try.
But having better two-way communication channels is absolutely essential to understanding what’s going right and what you could be doing better to improve the service you offer and improve the lives of the children you look after. And taking it digital is a fantastic tool in making that happen. Whether that's instant messages, automatic reminders or in-app News Feeds, taking it online makes giving and receiving feedback that much easier.
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.