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A boy drying his face near to  a toy mouse

Mouse Club: Supporting positive partnerships for learning between families and EYFS settings.

Apr 30, 2021

Early years development is the foundation of human adaptability and resilience. Unfortunately, early experiences have a great potential to affect brain development, and children can be especially vulnerable to persistent negative influences.

The early years are a window of opportunity for parents, caregivers, and communities to provide positive early experiences that will considerably affect learning, achievement, and well-being.

PEN's 'Mouse Club' project was developed to support staff to develop positive relationships with parents/carers before starting in school or settings.

The project allows parents caregivers to meet school and setting staff, sharing their child's knowledge, strengths, and aptitudes. Staff support the families' understanding of 'school readiness', providing opportunities for the families to meet and engage in fun activities to ensure their children are ready for learning.

Once children have begun school, staff support parents to provide a stimulating home learning environment.

What the research says:

  • "What parents do is more important than who they are for children's early development. For instance, home learning activities undertaken by parents are more important for children's intellectual and social development than parental occupation, education or income."The impact of parental involvement on a child's education DCSF (2008)
  • Parents' involvement in home learning activities makes an important difference to children's attainment. Sylva et al. 2010, EPPE 3000 children
  • There is a need to engage parents more effectively in their children's learning and the impact that learning at home can have on children's achievement. Desforges, 2003

Why is there a need to tackle disadvantage?

"We know from our research that by the time children start school, there's already a 19-month gap between the most and least advantaged pupils. So tackling this disparity early on is critical to breaking the cycle of disadvantage and improving social mobility." James Turner, Director of Programmes at the Sutton Trust.

To aim of the Mouse Club Project is:

  • To help staff build positive relationships with families, particularly families that do not traditionally engage with their child's learning or school;
  • To help parents understand how they can help their child get ready for and settle into school (including sleep, healthy diet, play, developing routines etc.);
  • To allow parents to develop their confidence and skills to support their children's learning;
  • To help parents build relationships and support each other.

We have developed the project on the premise that school/setting staff will develop and sustain effective working relationships with parents and carers. This is because the parents are the first educators, and they know their children best.

Mouse Club is an invitation to the families to work in partnership to prepare their child for their exciting next steps on their learning journey at school or in a setting.

How it works:

All aspects of the project are initially shown, discussed and explained to families at a Stay and Play session, where they are also given an opportunity to explore the home learning activities together with their child while being mentored by the school/setting staff. The activities are then taken home for the families to do the activities together again. Staff coach by asking how they are doing, encouraging, praising, chatting about how to develop the ideas.

One to One Meeting

A one-to-one meeting with the family is very important. It recognises the family as the first educators of their child and starts the building of positive relationships to support learning.

The family can be initially be contacted using a welcome letter or postcard, followed up with a phone call. Arrangements can be made to meet using the internet or doorstep visits or meeting at the school/setting operating social distancing.  It is hoped that eventually, home visiting will be able to be resumed.

The purpose of the meeting is to reassure families and introduce the transition and induction programme using Mouse. In addition, it provides the opportunity for parents to and discuss and share any specific support/needs before starting at school.

Some schools support their induction information with Mouse Club resources to help with skills, e.g.:

  • Knife and fork
  • Crayons, paper, child-friendly scissors
  • A book
  • Brushing teeth

Leaflets for parents

Mouse Club leaflets for parents can support the one-to-one meetings; they can help scaffold discussion if issues are raised. Again, these can be made widely available for families electronically.

Mouse Activities

The Mouse Activity sheets are sent home with the families for them to do together. The importance of having a home environment that supports learning cannot be underestimated. 

Mouse Club Stay and Play Sessions

Following the initial meetings, we would normally deliver two or three Stay and Play sessions.

These could be done remotely. Staff can show parents how to do the activities by inviting them to log in perhaps to a virtual coffee morning. Staff can model the activity talk about it.

Alternatively, examples of the activities being modelled by staff can be posted on the school/class websites

It is very important to do the one-to-one meeting and the Stay and Play sessions before the children start as it gives the parents/carers time to do the activities with their children prior to starting. It is the parent/carer’s role to prepare their children for change!

The sessions provide the opportunity for school/setting staff to familiarise the families with the routines, ‘how we learn’, and what parents/carers can do to support their child’s learning.

Model the Mouse Activities for the families. Show parents how to access the QR codes on the cards.

Then give them the opportunity to do the activities with their child and support them to engage – mentoring.

All the families are sent the Mouse Activity to do together, before meeting again at the next Stay and Play. Ask the families how they have got on, if they have any feedback, pictures to start the learning journeys, post into 2Simple/Tapestry or via a group email etc.

Communication

To build and maintain relationships it is important to facilitate families being able to share the learning that they do at home with staff in the school or setting. An essential part of engaging families who are often reluctant to engage is to have opportunities to support, praise and encourage participation.

Personalise as much communication as possible. Use parents’ names; do not talk to them through their child (e.g. Alfie’s mum).

Schools have set up email groups specifically for Mouse Club, encouraged families to send photographs/videos that can be added to their child’s learning journey/portfolio, sent postcards (see page 95), used a school app and texted parents.

Current practice

What do you currently do with families before children start school? What do you know works well for your community?

Mouse Club is a flexible resource. If the important elements of building relationships, working in partnership and PEN's ‘model, mentor, coach’ framework is used, Mouse Club can enhance your current programme.

For more information about the Mouse Club Project visit Mouse Club Transition Project or come along to one of our network meetings.

 

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