By Kathleen Tuite
As we move into the new year 2024, I have been reflecting on the impact of COVID-19, and mostly thinking about the legacy of restrictions on parents’ movements into Early Years settings and primary schools. I have passed a number of these settings and noticed signs such as ‘no parents beyond this point’, or ‘staff only’! I understood the reasons for this during the pandemic, but I now feel that it might be a good time to review this signage and think about removing it altogether. The signage that I am speaking about is mostly seen at the entrances to the buildings, where once parents could accompany their child to the playroom/classroom, now they are no longer permitted.
Thankfully there are only a small number of settings with these restrictions in place and my hope in sharing this is that these settings will take time to realise that these restrictions are no longer necessary.
Relationships with parents and families
I know that over the years a lot of work and effort has gone into settings welcoming parents and families, finding innovative ways of building genuine partnerships with them. Developing policies and procedures to involve parents and families, with the knowledge of how this supports children to settle in and develop a sense of identify and belonging within the setting. Aistear reminds us that ‘parents are the most important people in children’s lives’, and what a lovely way to let children feel and see this, by extending a warm welcome to their parents, inviting them into their child’s setting at every opportunity. Equally Siolta Standard 3, Parents and families ‘highlights the importance of valuing and involving parents through a range of clearly stated, accessible and implemented processes’. Valuing and involving parents starts with welcoming them into their child’s setting, at the very least at arrival and departure times. Other times can be negotiated or scheduled.
As I passed a setting one day, I noticed a grandparent who came to collect their grandchild and was asked to wait outside the door. My first thoughts were how wonderful it would have been for the grandchild to be able to show their grandparent where they spend a good deal of their day. How lovely it would have been for the child to tell his friends that ‘this is my Granny’! How lovely it would have been for this grandparent to see their grandchild’s friends and the environment that was specially created for the children. I know this grandparent, and she was not a regular visitor to the setting (although consent given for collection) and was surprised that she could not enter!
I walked away from the setting and pondered on the processes that were in place for valuing and involving parents and families. So if that setting sounds familiar and is a setting that you can influence, please try, actions can often speak louder than words! Think about checking out your setting, are the signs still in place, is the practice of ‘no parents beyond this point’ still in place, have your forgotten to remove the signs and replace with ‘parents and families welcome’!
Comfort and care
Think about how a child feels if they are a little nervous about going into their room having to let go of the comforting parent’s hand and make the short journey without them. Why not engage the children in developing welcoming signs for parents and families. Providing the option for parents/families to accompany their child to the playroom/classroom, or the option of going to their child’s playroom/classroom to collect their child. Step into the parents and child shoes, what does it feel like, are my policies and procedures really sending the message that parents/families are welcome.
Now be the leader in your setting in extending a warm welcome to all your parents and families, at all transition points, including entering and leaving the setting! Remember a welcoming school environment starts at the front door and here is where nurturing and welcoming parents begins.
We would love to hear how you are welcoming your parents and families in 2024!