How can we share the importance of play with parents?

How can we share the importance of play with parents and involve them in this learning journey with their children?

This is such a key question; getting the answer to this as “right” as possible will make the difference between a lifelong impactful learning experience and constantly feeling like you are working against the grain and fighting for a playful approach.

Building a shared understanding of pedagogy is as much about building a strong, caring relationship as it is about sharing ideas on pedagogy. And building a strong relationship (with anyone) starts with listening, genuine care and interest and empathy. Remember, building this relationship will:

  • Save you any headaches - happy relationships mean trust and care
  • Deeply impact on the well-being, learning and progress of the children in your care
  • Strengthen your understanding and articulation of your pedagogy. You will learn, grow and adapt your approach from verbalising what and why you teach in the way you do.

Below are a few steps I have gradually learned put into place over my 14 years of teaching to build relationships and walk a journey of learning with parents (“with” is in italics because, as the Reggio Emilia Approach says, parents are children’s first teachers - we have much to learn from and with them).

Many of these points have been “lightbulb” moments (you know the ones where you think, “why have I never done this before?!”), some I have done unconsciously or just because they “felt right”, some I’ve only just incorporated and have made a huge impact. Together, these ideas are potent in building a strong learning relationship with parents and, ultimately, super-charging learning.

1. Listen, connect and value. Share an open dialogue.

At the centre of any healthy relationship is listening. Take the time to hear parents; recognise and validate their struggles; understand the learning journey they have been on with their children so far. Starting with an empathetic and warm approach sends the message to parents that you are open to learn and walk this journey with them. One super-useful phrase I have learnt to “hear” parents is from Michael Rosenberg’s “Non-violent communication”. It’s so simple. Once parents have shared worries, concerns, learning strategies, you can say ,”What I’m hearing is …” and paraphrase back what you have understood. So powerful.

In relation to play, many parents might be apprehensive about a playful approach. It is likely to be unfamiliar to them, different to how they experienced school. By listening to their concerns and understanding and validating them, you create a launch pad to a shared deeper understanding.

2. Meet parents where they are

This expands on the point above. Parents may or may not have an understanding of the science and research behind play. In my own experience, once parents have their fears recognised and validated, they are very open to learn about learning approaches from a professional (that’s you!). Dig a bit deeper about their understanding and experience with play and play-based learning. Find out what their hopes and dreams are for their child through their learning journey in school. Often what they want for their children are the very things that play-based learning amplifies, such as happiness, agency, a joy for learning and a deep, connected understanding of content.

3. Share videos explaining pedagogy and language

This has been a gift of discovery through having to learn online. Whilst planning with my team in Bangkok, we wondered how to develop inquiry-led and playful learning remotely and how to support parents in understanding how and when to support their children. As such, we created “mini-video introductions” to explain pedagogy to parents as we went. This was a roaring success and by the end of our first round of remote learning, we had not only gone on a learning journey with children, but had also shared their journey with parents. Our video introductions included the power of learning through play, developing a language for learning, knowing how and when to step back and step in, valuing the journey of learning and not just the outcome. As a reflection at the end of this, our team commented on how much more powerful this “drip drip” and “in context” process was than running a once-off open-evening for parents. When we were back in school, I ensured I continued to “drip feed” these videos. Parents fed-back how much they appreciated developing a shared understanding of pedagogy. Sharing this “why” behind your approach, in this case developing play, brings parents on a journey with you and takes away any fear of the unknown. It’s like saying “we’ve got this!” and “I value you and your child’s learning so much I want you to join us on this journey”. Of course, this will only deepen children’s learning as parents begin to incorporate this language and these approaches at home.

4. Amplify communication through tech

Another gift from remote learning. We all had to get pretty tech savvy (or at least semi-tech savvy!). In doing this, this opened our minds to new possibilities for and uses for tech to enhance learning. Just one example is to use assessment tech, such as Seesaw, to communicate learning you can see through play. In doing so, you are reinforcing the message that “play is serious business”, “there’s a lot of deep learning going on here”. This creates a further “drip drip” message and bank of evidence to support your approach and bring parents along on that journey with you.

5. Celebrate and label “wins”

As children gain confidence, deepen learning, deepen friendships, make links, supercharge their learning through play, make time to share these wins collectively with children and parents. This can be in an informal chat at the beginning or end of the day, or, go wild and put aside specific time to do this. During my planning time, I used to put aside 20 minutes to call 1-3 parents to let them know how brilliantly their children were doing. You can use this time to advocate for play. For example, “I just wanted to share the independence your child has been showing in building and writing instructions to make a model. He used to be so scared of writing, but with a purpose he was excited about, he wrote a whole page carefully without my help. Please share this fantastic achievement with him this evening.” Triple impact:

  • Parents are delighted that you would take the time to do this
  • This is a wonderful surprise and recognition for that child when they get home
  • Another shared win for “play” as it is only through play that these kinds of impactful, agency-filled learning opportunities occur

We hope these “top tips” for parental engagement can be put into use in your classrooms. We know that by building this strong relationship with parents you will:

  1. Be an advocate for your approach
  2. Impact even more deeply on the learning and happiness of the children in your care
  3. Enjoy your job much more - Happy teacher, happy parents, happy children. Win-win-win.

As part of this interactive blogging series, Kym and I would love to hear from you about your “top questions” about embedding play-based practice.

Becky Carlzon

I’m a committed, creative classroom practitioner, always seeking to improve my practice AND, I am constantly researching and collaborating with some of the world’s leading minds. These conversations and collaborations shape my thinking and this is fed directly into the conversations within our community. So, classroom practitioner and lead thinker- and it is from this stance that I co-“lead” and coach this amazing community