We’re proud to introduce Senior Adviser and Head of Early Years at Lancashire County Council — Helen Belbin; who took time out to sit down with EasyPeasy’s Community Manager about the joys of working in Early Years, expectations of using EasyPeasy as part of the SHINE project in Lancashire and the importance of play!
Helen Belbin — Photo kindly shared by Helen
Lancashire is a particularly large local authority. Helen works with a diverse range of Early Years deliverers of funded early education- with places provided primarily by private and voluntary providers (including day nurseries, pre-schools and childminders) as well as state funded nursery classes, maintained nursery classes and independent schools. Helen is extremely passionate about the Early Years sector and dedicated to ensuring the best possible educational service for all the parents of Lancashire and their children. With a background as a headteacher, Helen has worked for the local authority in an advisory capacity since 2008. When asked about what brings her joy in this role, Helen said, “There’s the overall quality of the sector in Lancashire, of course, but the real joy- the moral purpose- is about driving change and improvement for a particularly vulnerable child and other children in similar situations. That is what gets me up in the morning”.
Lancashire’s involvement in the SHINE project A recent grant from SHINE has enabled a group of schools in the North of England to participate in EasyPeasy’s ‘Ready For School’ project. In Lancashire, 13 settings have successfully signed up and these settings are now in the early stages of rolling out the programme with parents to help improve the home learning environment and positively impact the communication and language skills of EYFS pupils.
“We’re very proud to be a part of it” The SHINE funding has made it possible for these settings to receive EasyPeasy and promote the importance of play. The project will help strengthen the important relationships between practitioners and parents and enable our schools to measure impact and determine whether they will move forward with using EasyPeasy in the future.
“Helping the workforce and parents to reach a closer shared perspective about their children’s needs and potential”
Tell us more about what your expectations are of this project? I am hoping to see accelerated learning progress for disadvantaged children. A significant part of my role is to support the Early Years workforce so they can work more effectively with parents to positively impact and improve the home learning environment. Our involvement in this project will also help to contribute to continuing professional development and add more practical ideas for play within the settings that can extend into home learning. This may be especially useful if the practitioners aren’t parents themselves.
From your experience, what are some of the current differences between Parent & Practitioner perspectives around Children’s needs? Supporting development in the home learning environment is a significant challenge in itself. We need to work on seeking out and using a ‘common language’ which can help to improve communications between parents and practitioners.
Practitioners can assist parents in understanding typical age and stage development and also the imperative role they play in their child’s development. For example; they’re the experts as the child’s first educator, they know their child best and they are in a position to support and extend learning and development. The more parents understand what educators are learning about their child and vice versa, the better.
Building relationships with parents, including strategies such as home visits, are very much encouraged in Lancashire and settings work hard to increase opportunities for high quality communication. Schools use a range of tools to increase shared learning moments and gather more insight into the home learning environment, for example; a child’s learning journey, via a digital programme such as EasyPeasy or hosting parent workshops — the idea is simple — create more touch points for communication and develop that ‘language in common’.
How do you think EasyPeasy will impact these shared perspectives around Children’s needs? EasyPeasy offers a shared point of interest for practitioners and parents; it’s a joint home learning opportunity. The ‘Pod’ structure lends itself nicely to enabling conversation and supports a stronger ‘language in common’. With EasyPeasy, parents are empowered in an accessible digital way and encouraged to share observations, key learning and innovate on the inspirational game ideas that are provided throughout the 20 week programme.
Importantly, EasyPeasy isn’t ‘schoolifying’ the learning process. It doesn’t feel overly formal and it helps parents to rediscover how to play themselves, as well as with their child. Play can be challenging and we shouldn’t assume that everyone possesses the same confidence levels when approaching these interactions.
“It’s about developmentally appropriate playful learning”
A parent might feel that their role is to ‘teach’ rather than support learning through ‘play’; simple messages around their responsibilities can help to build confidence. The DFE announced their improving-the-home-learning-environment campaign around ‘Chat, Play, Read’ earlier this year and The National Literacy Trust have published a great guide on why play is important. These are the kinds of simple and clear messages that reinforce how to get the most out of these crucial years, but doesn’t schoolify the steps needed to achieve school readiness.
Play at home is just as crucial as the things parents might typically see as “schoolified”, for example “formal” learning about maths, reading and writing. The EasyPeasy games are aligned to the EYFS which helps parents and practitioners to share a clear understanding of the educational outcomes and development they can observe when playing.
“How could you not believe in the power of play!” Play is what underpins the Early Years. Living, playing and learning are synchronous and playful teaching is the way to go for learners at this age and stage. There is a very strong evidence base that shows us the impact play has on the early years outcomes- their learning characteristics and the Early Learning goals; including language and communication, social and emotional development and creativity.
“The heart of Early Years is play!”
It’s also vital that we don’t underestimate the importance of communicating the value of play and how to engage in playful learning with our practitioners and parents. Creating a ‘language in common’ between the practitioners and parents can go a long way to help bring closer connection between the home learning environment and the school setting, encouraging and reassuring parents about their vital role in their child’s development.
It’s easy to assume that as adults we know how to engage in play — but that isn’t necessarily true. In Lancashire, for example, we offer practitioners the chance to attend “endless possibilities” workshop training’, which can be especially useful if a practitioner has been teaching across different year groups and is now moving into Early Years.
Finally Helen, do you have a favourite EasyPeasy game? In terms of style of game, I would go for ‘The Launderette’ games that have something of a ‘Mary Poppins’ feel about it…encouraging parents to include the child in the day-to-day running of the home in a playful, imaginative way creates a winning formula. Not only does it offer a great bonding opportunity between the parent and child, it helps to make a simple chore or activity playful, enjoyable and fun! A child is much more likely to progress to the next learning steps with a supportive and encouraging parent at the helm to help guide them through the activity or game. Turning the mundane into something splendid through play is magical!
Thanks to Helen Belbin for sharing her experience with the EasyPeasy Community.
What’s your EasyPeasy story? We welcome all feedback, stories and learning moments so please reach out to Community Manager Steph to share more details — firstname.lastname@example.org
*Throughout this blog, wherever we refer to “Parents” we mean “Parents’ and Carers”, including for example Grandparents’ and older siblings when they have significant caring responsibilities for children.