As I ponder this dilemma, as both a parent and an educator, I wonder what the solution is. We all know and recognise the importance of regular attendance in the early years. However, how do we communicate this with our families and really get it right from the start?
As a new academic year creeps up upon us, attendance for children at our early years settings is increasingly important, to establish secure routines and attachments and to provide them with the very best start to their early education. Research shows that regular part-time attendance from the age of 2 in a good quality early years setting has a lasting impact on children’s social development and intellectual attainment throughout school. (The Effective Provision of Pre-school Education Project: Findings from the Pre-school Period. Sylva et al, 2003).
However, parents and carers may not understand how important regular attendance is at your setting.
Now I’m not talking about the families that may take advantage of a cheap holiday in term time once a year, it’s the families that regularly don’t attend and a pattern forms, each time making it increasingly difficult for the child to re-settle, form lasting attachments and leaves them missing out on crucial learning opportunities. Families need to know that regular attendance and being punctual are an expectation of your setting. Ensuring you cover this through your induction processes, with a particular focus on routines and relationships can help families understand the importance of their child’s personal, social, and emotional development.
Building relationships with our families is a real strength of early years settings. We have the privilege of really getting to know them, often going on home visits offering us an insight into a child’s world outside of our setting. We are often offered are opportunities to discuss the child’s daily routine. Many parents and carers come to you with a whole range of questions and queries – from toileting, speech and language, to sleep routines. This is a real opportunity to support families, for example, some may struggle to put an effective morning routine in place, and getting their child dressed and ready may seem overwhelming. This is when we can step in to help, perhaps children who are consistently late or often don’t arrive could be offered afternoon sessions instead. Perhaps we could share resources like visual timetables to use at home to support the parent establish an effective morning routine. You may even wish to share details of the local Family Centre who may be able to offer some additional support or parenting programmes.
Many of you will offer workshops, information sessions, or stay and play activities where you will talk to parents and carers about their children’s development and how they can support this at home. Consider how you could communicate the importance of attendance through these sessions or through any information you share.
Finally, consider consistency and support for your staff across your setting. Are all key persons noticing change and following your attendance policy? Is everyone comfortable to challenge non-attendance? How soon after the session starts are parents and carers contacted by phone to ensure the child is safe? Are your procedures clear for all staff and do they know what to do if a child is absent and no contact can be made with the family?
Attendance at non-statutory school age will always be a challenge. But we have the power to turn that challenge into an opportunity. An opportunity to get to know our families and support them, and this may be temporary (after the arrival of a new baby to the family for example) or longer term (a parental aversion to educational settings stemming from their own experiences), but information and relationship building is key.
Building strong relationships with families and sharing our expectations around attendance and the importance of a child’s early education, which research shows us makes a significant difference to outcomes for children, will begin to build the foundations for good attendance in the future.