Engaging with Parents in Early Years Settings


Dianne Jackson & Martin Needham

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    For Liz and Christine with thanks for showing us that nurture, playful cognitive challenge and independent enquiry are important at every stage of learning.

    List of Figures

    • 2.1 Carr's key learning dispositions used to structure shared learning stories 28
    • 7.1 A model for analysing adult-mediated interaction 109
    • 8.1 Comparing category frequencies by case study group 112
    • 8.2 Comparing the frequency of the modes of interaction used by staff 124
    • 8.3 Comparing the frequency of the modes of interaction used by parents 125
    • 8.4 Comparing the metacognitive elements of interaction experienced by three children 126
    • 9.1 Comparing the frequency of affordance categories in episodes with adults present 135

    About the Authors

    Dianne Jackson trained as an Early Childhood Teacher and taught in a broad range of community, early childhood and school settings. Dianne then became a lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney where she completed a First Class Honours degree in social science. Since 2004 Dianne has held the position of Chief Executive Officer at Connect Child and Family Services, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in outer western Sydney that delivers a broad range of early childhood focused programmes with families. Dianne holds an adjunct position at the University of Western Sydney where she completed her PhD in 2010 and her doctoral research won the 2010 European Early Childhood Research Association (EECERA) Best Practitioner Research Award. Dianne co-convenes an EECERA special interest research group and her organisation has recently opened an innovative parent and child meeting place, conceptually based on collaborative work she has done with her EECERA colleagues from the University of Ghent. Dianne is also the New South Wales state convenor for the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY).

    Martin Needham trained and worked as an Early Years Teacher in Nottinghamshire, London and Pakistan. This was followed by four years as an Early Years Development Officer for a local authority working on a range of initiatives including Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships, and Children's Centres. During this time he worked regularly with one of the regional parent and child groups as part of the National Children's Bureau's Playing with Words project. He became a Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at the University of Wolverhampton in 2003 and a Principal Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2014. Martin completed his PhD Examining Pedagogy and Learning with Children Under the Age of 4 at the Institute of Education, London University, in 2011. Martin has two children with whom he attended parent and toddler groups. He has published titles on multi-agency working The Team around the Child (Siraj-Blatchford et al., 2007) and Applying Theory to Practice (Waller et al., 2011). Martin was the external examiner for the Peers Early Education Partnership (PEEP) which delivers practitioner training for those working with parents and children together from 2006 to 2010. Martin has also conducted research into leadership in early years settings (Hadfield et al., 2012).

    Hadfield, M., Jopling, M., Needham, M., Waller, T., Coleyshaw, L., Emira, M. and Royle, K. (2012) Longitudinal Study of Early Years Professional Status: An Exploration of Progress, Leadership and Impact – Final Report. London: Department for Education.
    Siraj-Blatchford, I., Clarke, K. and Needham, M. (2007) The Team Around the Child: Multi-agency Working in the Early Years. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham.
    Waller, T., Whitmarsh, J. and Clarke, K. (2011) The Power of Ideas in the Early Years. Maidenhead: Open University Press.


    This book is the culmination of research that we undertook with parents, families and practitioners in dual-focused groups in England and Australia. These people generously shared their time, thoughts and experiences with us and we learned so much from them. It is with the greatest appreciation that we thank them for the considerable contribution their participation has now made to early years service provision and the well-being of children and families.

    We would also like to thank the institutions which have supported us both professionally and financially. Martin would especially like to thank his friends and colleagues at the University of Wolverhampton in the School of Education and those at the Institute of Education, London University.

    Dianne would like to thank the University of Western Sydney School of Education where she completed her doctoral studies and now holds an adjunct position, and Connect Child and Family Services where she is the Chief Executive Officer. The support and expertise of friends and colleagues in both of these organisations continues to inform and influence her thinking and work.

    We would especially like to thank our PhD supervisors Liz Brooker and Christine Woodrow.

    We are both also very grateful to the European Early Childhood Education Research Association (EECERA) for providing a regular meeting place as a platform for developing this book. We met as new doctoral students presenting individual papers in a symposium session at an EECERA conference and have worked collaboratively since then.

    Finally, but most importantly, we would like to thank our own families whose love and support continues to sustain us; Dianne's partner Arnd and their five children continue to be the inspiration for her work; Martin's partner Ginny and their two children continue to be his best critical friends.


    We have used the term ‘parent’ throughout this book, however it is extremely important to point out that we take this to be an inclusive term encompassing guardians and grandparents of both sexes. The dual-focused groups used as examples explicitly promoted ‘family’ involvement but this word sometimes suggests a large number of family members participating at the same time. The word ‘parent’ in this context gives a more accurate sense of one adult attending group sessions with one, two or more of their children.

    The book was written with the intention of assisting and informing those who have an interest in engaging and working alongside parents and children in joint activities and dual-focused groups. We hope to prompt purposeful reflection on key issues for those who support younger children's participation in settings together with their parents.

    The book is presented in three parts. Part 1 reviews young children's development, researching with parents and the case for joint activity involving parents, children and practitioners. Part 2 uses examples from dual-focused groups in Australia to discuss what parents experience as support in these settings, the importance of nurture and the critical nature of facilitation in this context. Part 3 examines the nature of the learning environment experienced by children using examples of parent and toddler sessions in England.

    Each chapter begins with an overview and presents a key idea. At least one case study example is also included with suggestions for reflective activities that we hope will further extend readers’ thinking on the topics in the chapter either individually or collaboratively with others. The sequenced progression of the chapters in the book forms an argument for developing and sustaining joint activities between children, parents and practitioners. Each chapter, however, is also accessible in its own right and can be used to inform particular aspects of early years provision. We also hope that this structure will lend itself both to existing courses and to the more specialised study of promoting with parents.


    Starting with Parents; Supporting Children in the Early Years

    The discipline of working to achieve more authentically participatory, democratically oriented and research-informed early childhood practice has grown rapidly in recent years and it is now widely accepted as a powerful transformative force in early childhood practice internationally. In our own work we have made visible our continuing struggle to operate authentically within a participatory worldview in the belief that early childhood practice should and could be more democratic, participatory, empowering and should also be deeply ethical and political in its orientation (Pascal and Bertram, 2009, 2012). This shared journey of exploration and discovery still goes on and continues to enchant and beguile us. It is wonderful to see other scholars in the sector rising to the challenge of making this aspiration a reality.

    This fascinating and informed book from two well respected scholars from England and Australia, about how we might more effectively work with parents to support their children's learning attempts to achieve such a world view, appears at a significant time for those who work in early childhood services as they undergo a radical process of expansion, transformation and improvement. A major perspective shift has occurred which demands that early childhood services be transformed from being solely child focused to being child and parent focused. It is now increasingly accepted that early childhood practitioners have a professional responsibility, and therefore a professional skill requirement, to work with parents and children together to create a triad of developmental interaction with the child as they grow and thrive. For many in the sector, the system historically has divided those who work with parents from those who work with children. However, this timely book knits this fragmented thinking back together in a clear message that working in collaborative and nurturing child, parent, practitioner contexts has to be the future.

    In early childhood there is also a sharper need than ever to bring together theory, research and practice to ensure this change process is the result of careful thought and informed professional knowledge. In this relevant and reflective book, we find a set of chapters which demonstrate the synergy between research, theory and practice in early childhood beautifully. The authors of this book have succeeded in putting reflexivity and praxis at the heart of their work. This book is important because it provides a clear demonstration of the potential energy which is released when theory and practice come together, increasing the impact and complexity of the narratives of practice that result. Each chapter provides a layered narrative of praxis as the authors seek to explain and understand the complexities of working together with parents to support the fantastic and enthralling early learning journey of these very young children. It is both timely and enormously helpful to those in the field who are attempting to establish a new paradigm of work with parents and children.

    It is inspiring to see a text which attempts to shift our worldview, to support existing and developing practitioners and researchers to reflect more critically on how to more authentically realize the participatory practice with parents that they strive for. This requires courage, risk taking, and further innovation, alongside a more rigorous and critical engagement in the documentation of practice and a deeper level of reflection on the consequences of their actions. This shift could give us the chance to achieve more open, inclusive, democratic early childhood practice that has the capacity to answer the deeper questions we face in developing a more socially just ECEC system of practice which sees both parents and children as powerful and positive agents in their own futures.

    Chris Pascal and Tony Bertram

    Pascal, C. and Bertram, T. (2009) ‘Listening to young citizens: the struggle to make real a participatory paradigm in research with young children’, European Early Childhood Research Journal, 17 (2): 249–62. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13502930902951486
    Pascal, C. and Bertram, T. (2009) ‘Praxis, Ethics and Power: developing praxeology as a participatory paradigm for early childhood research’, European Early Childhood Research Journal, 20 (4): 477–92. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1350293X.2012.737236

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