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‘Parents’ Perspectives on Play – Parents’ understanding of preschool children’s learning through play-based teaching’

Rosalind Molyneux Bachelor of Education Diploma of Teaching (Early Childhood)

This thesis is submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Masters in Education Studies

School of Education University of Ballarat PO Box 663 University Drive, Mount Helen Ballarat, Victoria 3353 Australia Submitted in December 2012


ABSTRACT

This qualitative research project sought to explore parents’ understanding of their young children’s learning through play through participation in ‘parent involvement practices’. One parent involvement program in a Victorian preschool was examined to determine whether participation helped parents to understand their child’s learning through play. In addition, the research aimed to determine which parent involvement practices were most useful in promoting this understanding. The research was conducted by case study. Parents of preschool and prep grade children were surveyed by questionnaire and small group interview. The results found parents had a good understanding of play and used a variety of different practices to gain information about their child’s learning. Written documentation of both individual and group learning and face-to-face contact with teachers were found to be most useful in communicating learning to parents. Parents acknowledged changes in their understanding of learning through play after participating in these parent involvement practices.

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STATEMENT OF ORIGINAL AUTHORSHIP

Except where explicit reference is made in the text of the thesis, this thesis contains no material published elsewhere or extracted in whole or in part from a thesis by which I have qualified for or been awarded another degree or diploma. No other person’s work has been relied upon or used without due acknowledgement in the main text and bibliography of the thesis.

Signed:___________________________

Signed:___________________________

Dated: ___________________________

Dated: __________________________-

Rosalind Molyneux

Dr Michelle Ortlipp

Candidate

Principal Supervisor

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to acknowledge the support of my school for the opportunity to participate in the Masters program and to undertake this research. Several parents at the school gave generously of their time and I thank them for their interest and participation. I would also like to acknowledge the support of my supervisors Dr Michelle Ortlipp and Dr Susan Emmett, and the course coordinator at the university, Professor Georgina Tsolidis. They have all contributed to my progress and learning during the course of the Masters program, and I have greatly appreciated their mentorship. I would like to thank the other participants in the Masters Program for sharing this learning journey with me. Thankyou also to my colleagues for their passion and expertise in working with young children and families. They supported me through their interest in the research and their invaluable proof reading. Finally, thanks go to my supportive family for understanding and valuing the time commitment involved in further study.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Introduction…………………………………………………………………..1 2. Literature Review…………………………………………………………………………6 Historical perspectives on play and learning…………………………………..7 The contemporary nature of play and learning ……………………………….9 Parents’ expectations of preschool…………………………………………...13 Parents’ understanding of play and learning…………………………………15 Parent/teacher partnerships …………………………………………………..17

3. Methods……………………………………………………………………...20 Methodology ………………………………………………………………...20 Methods ……………………………………………………………………...21 Context for the research………….…………………………………………..21 Current parent/teacher activities …………………………………………….22 Participants………………………………………………………………...…23 Questionnaire………………………………………………………………...23 Interviews…………………………………………………………………….24 Data analysis……………………………………………………………………….25 Ethical considerations………………………………………………………...26

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4. Findings……………………………………………………………………...28 Rating of the parent involvement practices…………………………………..28 Documentation of learning…………………………………………...31 Parent/teacher interviews…………………………………………….32 Transition to school reports…………………………………………..33 Daily verbal feedback………………………………………………...34 Parent help in program……………………………………………….35 Newsletters…………………………………………………………...35 Social events/excursions……………………………………………...36 Other methods of feedback …………………………………………………..36 Communication………………………………………………………37 Documentation/displays……………………………………………...37 Parents’ beliefs/knowledge…………………………………………………...38 Teachers’ knowledge/personal characteristics……………………………….40 Children’s development/change……………………………………………...42

5. Discussion…………………………………………………………………45 Parents’ beliefs/knowledge…………………….……………………………..45 Teachers’ knowledge/personal characteristics……………………………….48 Children’s development/change……………………………………………...50 Importance of a range of parent involvement practices……………………...53 Influence of the Reggio Emilia philosophy…………………………………..54 Parent/teacher partnerships…………………………………………………...56

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6. Conclusion…………………………………………………………………..58 Implications of the research………………………………………………….59 Documentation of learning…………………………………………………...60 Face-face contact……………………………………………………………..60 Strengths and limitations of the study………..………………………………63 Suggestions for further research……………………………………………...64 Concluding comments………………………………………………………..65 Appendix 1: Definitions of parent involvement practices…………………..66 Appendix 2: Questionnaire questions ……………………............................67 Appendix 3: Interview schedule…………………………………………….69 Appendix 4: Data Analysis process…………………………………………71 Appendix 5: Parents’ rating of parent involvement practices………………72 Appendix 6: Ethics Approval……………………………………………….73 References ………………………………………………………………….74

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

When children begin preschool it is not only a transition point in their lives, but in the lives of their parents as well. Preschool is often the first formal educational institution with which families engage, and preschool teachers have an important role in establishing a partnership with parents which may set the scene for all future encounters between the family and school. In order to do this teachers need to understand parents’ beliefs and expectations and how they perceive their role in their children’s education. (Caddell, 1996; Noble, 2007a; Hadley, 2012). Armed with this understanding teachers and parents can develop a two-way relationship based on mutual understanding which will benefit the child. Relationships between teachers and parents are critical in effectively sharing children’s learning (Hughes & MacNaughton, 2001; Knopf & Swick, 2007). The preschool period is a vital time for engaging parents, as they are generally highly motivated and experiencing ‘education’ activities with their child for the first time. The significance of children’s learning in the early years prior to beginning preschool or school can be acknowledged when teachers connect with parents. The development of children's future understanding and knowledge depends on educators recognising and building on their existing experiences and it is now widely acknowledged that for maximum benefit the school must successfully build upon the child's existing knowledge and experience (Caddell, 1996).

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In a true partnership both parents’ and teachers’ knowledge of the child can be shared. Alasuutari (2010) proposed a framework where expertise is shared between parents and professionals. She asserted that “the parent’s expertise is different, but in no way lesser or less significant than the practitioners” (p 155). A collaborative relationship between teachers and parents should recognize both parties’ expertise. Opportunities for parents to be involved in their child’s preschool education provide a basis for relationships and partnerships to develop between teachers and parents. Parent involvement in preschool programs has traditionally been a feature of early childhood education, and there is currently an increased focus on all aspects of parent involvement in Australian early childhood programs (DEEWR, 2009a). The term ‘parent involvement program’ can be described as the various practices adopted by teachers to share aspects of children’s learning at preschool with their parents. These practices may include activities such as preschool information sessions, parent/teacher interviews and enlisting parent assistance with classroom activities or excursions. The Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE) project, a longitudinal study recognized worldwide as guiding current best practice in early childhood programs, demonstrated the relationship between parent involvement and children’s intellectual development. There were more intellectual gains for children in centres that encouraged high levels of parent engagement in their children’s learning. The most effective settings shared child-related information between parents and staff, and parents were often involved in decision making about their child’s learning programme. More particularly, children did better where the centre shared its educational aims with parents (Sylva, et al, 2004, p vii).

In the Australian context the new framework for early years education, the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) (DEEWR, 2009a) was introduced in 2010. The framework has provided the stimulus for educators to critically reflect on all aspects of their practice, including their pedagogy and their partnerships with parents. It places particular emphasis on the importance of educators engaging with parents.

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Learning outcomes are most likely to be achieved when early childhood educators work in partnership with families. Educators recognize that families are children’s first and most influential teachers. Partnerships are based on the foundations of understanding each other’s expectations and attitudes, and build on the strength of each other’s knowledge (DEEWR, 2009a, p 12).

In the EYLF there is also an emphasis on learning through play. This has traditionally been the basis of preschool programs in Australia and with the introduction of the EYLF this is spelt out more clearly. Whilst reinforcing the important role of play for young children, the EYLF links it more closely to learning outcomes for children. There has been a change in terminology from the more general term ‘play’ to ‘playbased learning’. The Early Years Learning Framework … has a strong emphasis on play-based learning as play is the best vehicle for young children’s learning providing the most stimulus for brain development (DEEWR, 2009b, p 1).

Learning through play can be defined as follows: A context for learning through which children organise and make sense of their social worlds, as they engage actively with people, objects and representations (DEEWR, 2009a, p 6).

While teachers aim to build relationships with parents and understand their perspectives, they also need to be aware of current theory and practice and how to communicate this to parents. It can be difficult to describe play in terms that families can understand, and in particular to show how play assists with children’s learning (Connor, 2011). It is therefore important to explore parents’ knowledge of learning through play and how effectively educators communicate their pedagogy to parents. This research project therefore aims to explore the experiences and understandings of parents with a child at preschool, specifically their understanding of their child’s learning through play. How does being part of a preschool program assist parents’ understanding of this learning? What do parents gain from involvement in activities designed by staff to help them understand their child’s learning? The researcher was interested in seeking parents’ perspectives on their experience of participating in a preschool parent involvement program.

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The key research question is: How effectively do the parent involvement practices in a preschool assist parents to understand their child’s learning through play? This indicates some sub-questions: 

How do parents understand their children’s learning through play?

How do current practices fulfil parents’ needs in understanding their child’s learning in this setting?

Are educators focussing on the most useful means of communicating learning? If not, is there a better way forward?

It is important that research adds to current understanding and may assist in changing future practice. This research seeks to examine an everyday occurrence in preschools (i.e. parent/teacher activities and relationships) with fresh eyes. The concept of ‘radical looking’ refers to the ‘opening up of familiar things to alternative ways of seeing’ (Clough & Nutbrown, 2002, p23). The concept of ‘radical listening’, also described by Clough and Nutbrown (2002), emphasises attending to all the voices within and around a topic. In preschool settings teachers’ voices are often heard, as teachers are generally responsible for planning parent involvement programs. It is also important for teachers to listen to parents’ voices and therefore be open to new ways of working together. As mentioned earlier, current Australian government policy through the EYLF requires educators to develop partnerships with parents. There is however little guiding information about how to do this, or on which practices will contribute to the development of effective relationships. As previously stated, effective relationships may assist in sharing children’s learning through play with parents. In addition, there is little information in the literature about parents’ perceptions of play as a learning tool. The researcher was interested therefore in exploring how participation in a parent involvement program could influence parental perceptions of learning through play.

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In the broader context, the EYLF is part of a larger national reform agenda, the National Quality Standard (NQS), which came into full operation in January 2012 (ACECQA, 2011). All Australian early childhood programs are now required to show evidence of meeting the quality standard in each of seven areas. Quality area six is titled ‘Collaborative partnerships with families and communities’, placing these partnerships centrally in recommended best practice. As Ball asserted (in Foot et al, 2002), “Parental involvement is therefore a defining characteristic of high quality provision” (p 6). Given these reforms in the early childhood sector in Australia, evaluating the usefulness of preschool parent involvement practices is timely. The current study will examine the practices in one preschool and seek parents’ perspectives on their usefulness in contributing to their understanding of their child’s learning through play. Chapter One has provided an introduction to the research project, citing the rationale and significance of the study. It also places the research project within the context of major changes in early childhood education policy and practice in contemporary Australia. Chapter Two will examine previous research which will provide the background framework for the current investigation. This includes consideration of both historical and contemporary perspectives on play and learning. Research into parents understanding of play and learning and their expectations of preschool will be explored. The notion of parent/teacher partnerships, particularly parent involvement in preschool programs, will also be discussed. Chapter Three will detail the methodology of the study, describing the context for the qualitative case study undertaken, and the methods used. The approach to data analysis will be described and ethical considerations of this research will be considered. Chapter Four will describe the findings of the questionnaire and interviews conducted for the research. These findings will be further discussed and interpreted in Chapter Five, while Chapter Six will draw conclusions from the research and offer recommendations and suggestions for further research. 5


CHAPTER TWO

LITERATURE REVIEW

In order to answer the research question How effectively do the parent involvement practices in a preschool assist parents in understanding their child’s learning through play? it was necessary to examine the literature regarding not only the nature of parent involvement in early childhood programs, but the current thinking about children’s learning through play. Examination of the relevant literature revealed five important themes relating to this research. These themes deserve further exploration as they each provide background information that illustrates both the significance and the scope of prior research of the topic under investigation. The five broad themes are: 1. Historical perspectives on play and learning 2. The contemporary nature of play and learning 3. Parents’ expectations of preschool 4. Parents’ understanding of play and learning 5. Parent/teacher partnerships The following discussion will consider the literature relating to each theme.

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1. Historical perspectives on play and learning Play is a broad concept which needs expanding and describing for the purpose of the research. Seminal authors on play come from the fields of psychology, education and science. These theorists view play through different lenses, according to the purpose it fills in children’s lives, for example, social, intellectual, or therapeutic. A brief description of the major contributors to play theory in relation to children’s learning sets the context for the current research. During the 1700s-1800s Frederick Froebel was a pioneer in the field of child development studies. He was one of the first theorists to consider children as different to adults, recognising the unique characteristics and needs of childhood. Froebel designed the first kindergarten, believing play was an important route to learning (Froebel, 1904). The late 1800s and early 1900s produced many influential play theorists including Montessori, Dewey and Piaget. Maria Montessori coined the phrase that ‘play is the child's work’ and purported that it should be purposeful. Montessori was particularly interested in how play developed the mind, body, brain and senses and her influence is still seen today in many preschool programs (Montessori, 1912). John Dewey was inspired by Froebel and described play as a subconscious activity that helps an individual develop both mentally and socially. He asserted that children learn best by doing, and that education and life are interrelated, not separate (Dewey, 2010). An important contribution to play theory occurred during the 1930s. Mildred Parten developed a system for classifying participation in play still widely used in education settings today. She described the development of children’s social play moving from the individual-based ‘unoccupied play’ through several stages to ‘cooperative play’ where children are working and playing together (Dau, 1999). More recently this has been revisited by Xu (2010) considering the different cultural and technological changes that may impact on children’s participation in play today. Jean Piaget was a psychologist whose work focused on intellectual development in children, and his play theory reflects this perspective. He suggested that human intellect develops in universal stages, and saw functional play as an important mode in 7


which a child constructs new knowledge through active exploration with the environment (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969). Piaget’s theories had significant influence on early childhood programs throughout the late 20th century. Another influential theorist of this period whose ideas were closely related to Piaget was Jerome Bruner. He promoted an inquiry-based, constructivist learning theory involving problem solving situations which require the learner to draw on past experience and existing knowledge (Bruner, 1977). Lev Vygotsky was also interested in constructivist theory, but his play theory emphasises the social nature of learning and development. He introduced the concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD). This suggests that while children need their peers or playmates to grow, they need adult interaction as they master each social skill and are ready to be introduced to new learning for growth (Vygotsky, 1978). Play is the natural context or ‘leading activity’ for young children to learn through social interaction. Play is the vehicle that helps children reach their potential level from their actual level of development (Xu, 2010). Contemporary theories about play build on Vygotsky’s idea of play as the leading activity of young children, and it’s relation to learning (Fleer, 2011; Bodrova, 2008). Fleer suggests a new theory of play named ‘conceptual play’, which links imagination and cognition. She states this may assist teachers in bridging the gap between play and learning by showing how children learn concepts through play based programs (Fleer, 2011). Bodrova highlights the concern that children’s current make-believe play is not as mature as it should be, due to societal changes such as toys which do not require imagination, and the limits on where and how children can play. She argues that adults’ scaffolding of this make-believe play is critical, to assist the development of both play and early academic skills (Bodrova, 2008). Most early childhood programs today owe their origins to some or all of these seminal authors. Of interest in the site of the current research is the philosophy emanating from Reggio Emilia in Italy. The educational approach in Reggio Emilia builds on these earlier theorists, in particular Montessori, Piaget, Dewey and Vygotsky, but goes beyond them to construct its own perspectives (Rinaldi, 2006). The educators in Reggio Emilia see children as strong, powerful and competent, and as naturally social

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beings able to take an active role in the construction of their own learning and understanding (Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 2012). The unifying force of many theorists is the importance of play in the lives of children. Theorists, regardless of their orientation, concur that play occupies a central role in children’s lives. They also suggest that the absence of play is an obstacle to the development of healthy and creative individuals (Isenberg & Quisenberry, 2002, p 1).

2. The contemporary nature of play and learning The importance of play is reinforced in current international policy. The right of a child to play is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). This informs many national policies regarding the care and education of young children, including the Australian Early Childhood Code of Ethics (Early Childhood Australia, 2006) and The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia, or EYLF (DEEWR, 2009). Play is recognised universally as important for children in the educational context. It is therefore important for teachers of young children to describe the educational benefits of play. Being able to define and articulate play as a mode of learning is necessary to share educational aims with parents. Some authors believe that there is no common definition of play, or that it is not easily defined due to its complexity (Vickerius & Sandberg, 2006; Cooney, 2004; Pramling-Samuelsson & Johansson, 2006). Contemporary authors who attempt to describe the characteristics of play include a number of common attributes. The seminal authors on play, as previously discussed, are widely cited by others who build on their theories to define play. These definitions of play include the following characteristics: 

being child-initiated, of free choice or intrinsically motivated (Sheridan, 1999; Cooney, 2004; Stegelin, 2005; Fisher et al, 2008; Samuelsson & Carlsson, 2008; Yelland, 2011; Fleer, 2011)

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involving fun and fantasy (Vickerius & Sandberg, 2006; PramlingSamuelsson & Johansson, 2006)

something separate from work (Hedges, 2000; Yelland, 2011)

a child’s work (Paley, 2004; Pramling-Samuelsson & Johansson, 2006)

being physically active (Bruner, Froebel, in Sheridan, 1999)

symbolic (Beecher & Arthur, 2001; Dockett & Fleer, 2002)

giving joy, freedom, contentment, peace with the world (Froebel, in Vickerius & Sandberg, 2006)

having attention to the means rather than the end (Yelland, 2011) and

satisfying a child’s needs, involving an imaginary situation and bringing about internal transformations in a child’s development (Vygotsky, 1978)

A comprehensive definition of play which is applicable to the current research is expressed by Youngquist and Pataray-Ching (2004). They state that play: must be intrinsically motivated and personally and socially meaningful to the learner…and that every act of play contributes to theories the learner is constructing (p 172).

This definition brings together the deep involvement of the child in their play and the knowledge that can be constructed through this play. This is also in keeping with the socio-cultural theory of learning espoused by Vygotsky (1978). This approach to learning is currently in use in many early learning settings in Australia and internationally, including the setting for the current research. Early childhood programs in Australia have historically been based on ‘learning through play’. As previously mentioned, play is recognised universally as important for children, but what is the connection between children’s play and their learning? In the context of the current research play as a mode of learning for preschool children will be considered. In the early 21st century there has been a rising interest in a Vygotskian model of learning, such as in programs inspired by Reggio Emilia. The role of the teacher during play is now considered to be critical. Previously, Piagetian approaches saw children constructing knowledge on their own in interaction with the environment, but with little adult assistance. The adult’s role was to set the environment to facilitate children’s play and exploration (Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 2012).

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Vygotskian concepts encourage a scaffolding role by the teacher or more skilled person to support the student’s learning. In addition to providing a stimulating environment, teachers must be actively involved for in-depth learning to occur. Teachers explore and think together with children, guiding their learning in an intentional way. Moreover, Hedges (2000) suggests that learning through play can be equated with teaching through play. The sociocultural view of cognitive development therefore explicitly acknowledges the roles of adults and peers in children’s learning (Hedges, 2000, p 17).

This view is supported by Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, Berk, & Singer (2009) and Yelland (2011). They cite the evidence for ‘playful learning’ or ‘playful explorations’ in preschool, recognising the important role of interactions from qualified staff with children to scaffold their learning. Learning outcomes can be articulated and achieved through intentional teaching via play. The socio-cultural approach to teaching young children is reflected in recent curriculum documents such as the EYLF (DEEWR, 2009), emphasising the currency of this theory of teaching and learning. Pramling-Samuelsson and Johansson (2006) discuss how play and learning had historically been kept apart in their home country of Sweden, in particular to protect the carefree and joyful nature of play. Changes in the education system and influences from socio-cultural theories caused them to reflect on how play and learning might be connected, without losing this aspect of play. Their perspective is different to many other authors in that they believe that play belongs to the child, whereas learning is something with which teachers are more concerned. This interplay of learning and play in preschool is an interesting notion to explore, as learning through play cannot be fully appreciated without a clear understanding of these two concepts and their relationship. The above authors agree however, with Hirsh-Pasek et al (2009) and Hedges (2000), that the role of the teacher is paramount in children’s play. When teachers take part in children’s play they are signalling that play is important (Manning & Sharp, as cited in Pramling-Samuelsson & Johansson, 2006, p 54).

This valuing of the child’s play world is one way educators can show parents the importance of play. A common theme in the literature is that teachers of young children feel the need to defend the use of play and prove its value in learning. “Many teachers worry that 11


children’s play is not valued outside of the early education community” (Bodrova & Leong, 2003, p 50). There is also a suggestion that using play terminology in an education setting can be problematic because the layperson’s perspective of play can be defined as non-educational. Youngquist & Pataray-Ching (2004) propose using two different labels to explain the rigors of children’s play. Play that exists outside school settings can be labeled as ‘play’ and play within the educational curriculum can be called ‘inquiry’. The notion of inquiry is also a theme emanating from Reggio Emilia, where children’s natural curiosity and drive to understand is recognised and encouraged (Rinaldi, 2006). Synodi (2010) suggests a ‘pedagogy of play’ as a definition which attempts to link play and pedagogy in kindergarten. This term refers to all the experiences and strategies used by teachers so that children learn through play and playful activities which are both child and teacher initiated. It seems therefore that some authors are suggesting play needs to be redefined in order to gain wider acceptance as an educational tool. As previously mentioned, teaching through play is part of the pedagogy of Australian early childhood programs. A definition of teaching through play, which encompasses the essential elements, is as follows: Establishing relationships with children and their parents, planning the learning environment and curriculum, supporting and extending children’s play, learning and development, and assessing children’s achievements and planning their next steps (DfEE/QCA, as cited in SirajBlatchford, Sylva, Muttock, Gilden & Bell, 2002, p 28).

The specific role of the adult in teaching through play is further highlighted by Kennedy and Stonehouse (2012). Integrated teaching and learning approaches combine guided play and learning, adult-led learning, and child-directed play and learning. Integrated teaching and learning involves the adult ‘intentionally’ engaging with the child in play (Kennedy & Stonehouse, 2012, p 3).

These definitions point to the complex nature of early childhood educators’ work. It is envisioned that by seeking parents’ perspectives, the current research may assist teachers and parents to establish a common understanding of these concepts. There has been concern expressed in the literature about the disappearance of play in children’s lives, and pressure from various interest groups to introduce formal learning at an earlier age (Cooney, 2004; Stegelin, 2005; Bodrova & Leong, 2003; 12


Marcon, 2002). Siraj-Blatchford et al (2002) quoted numerous studies that showed that ‘formal’ approaches to teaching young children, or direct instruction, could be counter-productive. Short-term gains are quickly lost, and negative outcomes such as anxiety and low self-esteem can be generated. Marcon (2002) completed a longitudinal study of children from preschool through to fourth grade, and found similar results which showed the benefits of a play-based program. Children's later school success appears to have been enhanced by more active, child-initiated early learning experiences. Their progress may have been slowed by overly academic preschool experiences that introduced formalised learning experiences too early for most children's developmental status (Marcon, 2002).

Some parents may be more familiar with a ‘formal’ approach to learning from their own schooling experience. It is therefore important that the link between play and learning be made, so parents can be reassured that their child is learning and their long-term academic and social development will be enhanced by play-based programs. There is, therefore, a general consensus in the literature that high quality programs involve young children in active play, where they can construct their own understandings within a social environment. Authors discuss and debate the nature of play and learning, the relationship between the two, and the redefining of play to truly reflect the learning involved.

3. Parents’ expectations of preschool There has been limited research that investigates parents’ attitudes, perceptions and expectations about early childhood programs (Stipek, Milburn, Clements & Daniels, 1992; Rodd & Millikan, 1994; Laloumi-Vidali, 1998; Hughes & MacNaughton, 2000; Elliott, 2003; Noble, 2007a). Whilst much of the literature discusses parent involvement and understanding from teachers or professional viewpoints, very few studies appear to be done from the parent’s perspective, hence the significance of the current research. Teachers and parents need to seek each other’s views if they are to work together effectively. As Farquar (1991) proposes, “Study of parents’

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perspectives can be useful to staff to help them identify possible mismatches between parents’ views and their programme practices” (p 5). In reviewing the literature, specific research into parents’ perspectives was difficult to locate, and much of it was not recent. For example, Farquar (1991) investigated what parents felt was best for children in New Zealand early childhood centres. The most important goals identified by parents were self-confidence, being in a safe and secure setting, peer relationships and independence. ‘School readiness skills’ were rated as the least important. Stipek et al (1992) also studied parents’ beliefs about appropriate education for young children in California, finding that less-educated parents tended to favour direct instruction methods and the acquisition of basic skills, whereas well-educated parents preferred child initiated, exploratory learning activities. This indicates the importance of establishing parents’ beliefs about their children’s learning, as they are children’s first teachers. Preschool teachers require knowledge of the child within the family setting, including the types of activities parents may consider important for children to engage in. “Parents engage in activities that may support or interfere with their children’s learning and social-motivational development before, as well as while attending school” (Stipek et al, 1992, p 307). An Australian study by Rodd and Millikan (1994) identified specific skills children gained in preschool that parents believed prepared them for school. These included listening and following instructions, communicating needs and coping with routines. These practical skills alone may not indicate the depth of learning through play that early childhood teachers hope their children will experience in a preschool program. Assisting with ‘school readiness’ is an often-cited expectation of parents of children attending preschool. In a Scottish study by Foot, Howe, Cheyne, Terras & Rattray (2000) parents stressed preparation for school as the single most important aim of preschool. What this preparation for school entails is not spelled out, and may actually be the result of many of the play activities provided. Lockwood and Fleet (1999) also questioned parents about school readiness skills children should attain in preschool. In summary, these were social skills, self-confidence, and an interest in and enjoyment of learning. Interestingly, parents placed less importance on academic skills and school readiness, which was different to the perceptions of the staff. 14


Goodfellow (2002) highlighted the fact that parents may be interested in a broader picture of their child’s progress. Many (parents) are aware that school readiness encompasses a holistic approach to the development of children’s social/emotional competence rather than providing a program that purely prepares children for school routines (Goodfellow, 2002, p 10).

More recently, Petrie and Holloway (2006) also found that parents emphasised social skills over academic skills. This highlights the many different perceptions which can be held by parents, and the importance of not assuming what parents want or understand, or that parents have the same expectations as teachers. Hadley’s recent study of staff and families’ perceptions of preschool experiences confirmed this. Groups of staff and families were questioned about the importance of different preschool experiences from both their own perspective, and what they thought the other groups’ perspective would be. Neither the family or staff group surveyed could predict how the other group would rate the importance of different preschool experiences (Hadley, 2012). Of the other more recent studies that have been conducted, there are several common expectations of preschool expressed by parents. In accord with the earlier studies, social skills and being able to develop effective relationships with both children and adults were considered very important for preschool age children (Foot et al, 2000; Goodfellow, 2002; Noble, 2007a; Petrie & Holloway, 2006; Robson, 2006). Other expectations were exposure to a range of activities (Foot et al, 2002; Robson, 2006), preparing for further learning (Noble, 2007a), and providing intellectual stimulation and learning, and a combination of care and education (Laloumi-Vidali, 1998). These studies lay the foundation for the current research by highlighting the wide variety of parental expectations of preschool, and the importance of seeking parents’ views.

4. Parents’ understanding of play and learning Despite extensive literature about play, there seems to be little research into the parents’ perceptions and understanding of play. This is a definite gap in the research.

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Lamb-Parker et al (1999), in their evaluation of the Head Start program in the United States, highlighted the importance of parents’ understanding of play in early childhood, in particular in the area of school readiness. They noted that Children of parents who had a good understanding of the concept of play showed better outcomes both in terms of cognitive competencies and classroom behaviour outcomes (p 418).

This finding reinforces the significance of the current research. Parents in the study discussed earlier by Foot et al (2002) were asked the difference between playgroups and nursery (preschool). They mostly defined education as the focus of nurseries and play as the focus of playgroups. This separation in the parents’ minds between education and play is distinctly at variance with current policy which promotes learning through play…thus it is a source of possible tension between the aspirations of parents and those of educators (Foot et al, 2000, p 198).

Further exploration is necessary to clarify what parents perceive to be the difference between education and play, and whether they perceive that play can in fact be education. Within the Australian context, the concept of play may be understood differently by parents. Noble (2007b) found parents valued opportunities for their children to feel secure, comfortable and stimulated, and noted the importance of play to maximise learning. With a history of play-based programs in Australian preschools, this result is not unexpected. Further research, such as the current study, could seek information from parents regarding how they understand their child’s learning through play. One of the few studies to seek parental perspectives on play and learning was undertaken by Fisher, Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, & Gryfe (2008). They explored mothers’ and professionals’ beliefs about the nature of play and the relationship of play to academic learning. Their findings suggested that while mothers and professionals shared beliefs that play sets a foundation for future academic learning, their understandings of what constituted play and how important it was to academic learning differed. It is therefore important to explore the link between play and learning in parents’ minds. Petrie and Holloway (2006) highlighted this in their research, finding that “some parents may not be aware of the opportunities for learning that are embedded in a play-oriented curriculum” (p 11). As referred to

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earlier, teachers should not assume parents understand and therefore agree with the teaching approach. Ideally parents and teachers should have a mutual recognition and understanding of the learning within children’s play activities. Similar concerns regarding a shared understanding of play and learning between parents and teachers are cited by several other authors (Caddell, 1996; Hughes & MacNaughton, 2001; Youngquist & Pataray-Ching, 2004). Hughes and MacNaughton have conducted extensive research into teacher and parent perspectives in Australian and New Zealand settings. They found that staff felt parents often did not and could not understand the professional basis of teachers’ actions (Hughes & MacNaughton, 2001). These results could suggest the need for both pre-service training and professional development for teachers in working with parents, as well as some type of parent education as part of parent involvement programs (Foot et al, 2002). A study by Cooney (2004) found that both parents and teachers desire a play-type program that does not have academic pressures, even though this may not always be able to be achieved on a practical level. Parents in Cooney’s study stated that childhood should be a time to explore and learn in a fun way, and they could therefore potentially be strong advocates for a play-oriented curriculum. Similarly, Robson (2006) found that when asked, parents could articulate their children’s learning through play. She stated that it was important to continue to talk to parents to further this understanding. Establishing parents’ perspectives on play should be a first step in working towards a shared understanding and developing knowledge between educators and parents. In summary, parents’ understanding of the relationship between play and learning at preschool varies markedly and is an under researched area, highlighting the importance of seeking parents’ views.

5. Parent/teacher partnerships Current government policy expects educators to consult and work with parents, but there are often difficulties associated with this, creating a challenge for teachers (Hughes & MacNaughton, 1999; Keesing-Styles, 2000; Cheatham & Ostrosky, 2011). Parents’ voices are not always heard; their influence may be limited, and many staff find it difficult to include parents in their programs (Hughes & MacNaughton, 2000; 17


Elliott, 2005). If educators explore what parents know and want to know, it may assist them to target parent involvement practices accordingly. Elliott (2003) defines parent engagement “as all opportunities available to parents to contribute their voices in various ways” (p 14). It is important not to make assumptions about parents’ knowledge and desire for involvement in their child’s learning. Consulting parents, as in the current study, should assist with establishing whether current practices meet the needs of current families using the service. In early childhood centres staff often appear to determine how and when parents can participate in programs, thus making it a one-way process (Hughes & MacNaughton (2000). A parent involvement program should instead be a two-way collaborative process (Elliott, 2003). Elliott identified some distinct themes important to parents. These were that services informed parents rather than communicating with them, did not share the type of information parents were interested in, and that there was a lack of connection between experiences at home and preschool (Elliott, 2003). This research highlighted that preschool staff need to embrace parents’ interest and enthusiasm for continuing preschool learning experiences at home by sharing their knowledge with parents in ways that parents understand. The findings of the study by Cohrssen, Church and Tayler (2010) support the contention that the relationship between educator and parent is powerful and significant in contributing to parents’ understanding of their children’s learning. In their description of family-centred practice, Cohrssen, Church and Tayler argue that Family-centred practice is essential for improving learning outcomes. Research shows that parents’ involvement in their child’s education is associated with improved learning outcomes for children (2010, p 4).

In addition, parents value their relationships with professionals, particularly their friendship and social support (Robson, 2006; Rolfe & Armstrong, 2010). These professional friendships can set the scene for sharing learning between teachers and parents. The importance of relationships highlights the issue of communication with parents in general. Parents can find opportunities for communication with staff are too limited (Elliott, 2005) or that their perception of the level of communication differs from that of teachers (Hadley, 2012). Hadley’s research indicated teachers were unaware their efforts at communication were not being heard by parents. 18


There is discussion in the literature about the perceptions teachers hold about parents, and how these perceptions can influence the role parents play in their child’s education. As Knopf and Swick (2007) stated, “Parents tend to gravitate towards the expectations teachers have for them” (p 294). If educators position themselves as the ‘experts’ in the relationship, this can hinder the development of productive working relationships. Parents and teachers have different types of expertise, and each party’s knowledge of the child can be complementary (Hughes & MacNaughton, 1999). Parents need to know that educators value their ideas and opinions. Hughes and MacNaughton (1999) also state that parents can fulfil many roles in the context of early education settings. These include those of teacher, program collaborator and decision-maker. These definitions of parents’ roles are relevant and important for the current research. For example, viewing parents as collaborators enables both educators and parents to share knowledge back and forth, using it in both the home and school. Hughes and MacNaughton (1999) ultimately suggest that staff should use their ‘expertise’ to empower both themselves and parents, so that a more equal partnership can be achieved. There are suggestions in the literature that the skills required to collaborate with parents should be an essential element of teacher training (Alasuutari, 2010; Foot et al, 2002). This is important given current policy directions that require staff to collaborate with and consult parents regarding program delivery. There is a possibility of conflict between staff’s knowledge of pedagogy and managing parents’ requests in a way which does not compromise program delivery (Hadley, 2012). The review of the literature has considered research about the nature of play and learning, parents’ perspectives on preschool and play, and parent/teacher partnerships. The literature has been evaluated in relation to the current research, and common themes and gaps in the research have been identified. The literature review therefore informs this investigation which explores the role of parent involvement practices in furthering parents’ understanding of preschool children’s learning through play.

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CHAPTER THREE

METHODS

Methodology The purpose of the research study was to seek parents’ perspectives on their experience of participating in a preschool parent involvement program. This was in order to answer the research question: How effectively do the parent involvement practices in a preschool assist parents to understand their child’s learning through play? A qualitative approach was taken to the research, with the expectation that this would reveal more information and insight into this particular topic. Qualitative research aims to “show something’s meaning to or significance to a particular people or groups of people” (Hughes, 2001, p53). Human behaviour is influenced by particular situations and social settings, and it is not always possible to generalise from the individual to the wider population. Individual or group experiences and perceptions however are valid in explaining the complexity and rich detail of people’s lives. By seeking the views of people as they participate in a particular program it was hoped that the voices of parents in this setting could be heard both individually and collectively. Hatch (2007) emphasises the importance of the researcher locating themselves within a particular qualitative paradigm, as there are many valid forms of qualitative inquiry. This research is located within the constructivist paradigm. “Constructivists assume that absolute realities are unknowable, and the objects of inquiry ought to be individual perspectives that are taken to be constructions of reality” (Hatch, 2007, p 13). People have many different ways of seeing the world, and therefore multiple realities can be constructed. The researcher can construct understandings with participants by listening to their voices and being open to different interpretations. 20


Methods This research was carried out via a case study. The research topic was suited to a case study approach because it examined a practice within one school. The aim was to gain the perspective of the people to whom this practice is directed, the parents at the preschool. The study sought a deeper understanding of their experience of the parent involvement program. Edwards, (in MacNaughton, Rolfe & Siraj-Blatchford, 2010), describes case studies as being able to “provide a detailed snapshot of a system in action”, and a benefit of case studies can be “that the familiar is seen afresh as a result of rigorous examination” (p 165-166). The opportunity to examine a system with fresh eyes was applicable in this setting, as practices evolve over time and become established. An examination was needed to see whether these practices are in fact meeting the needs of the current parents at this centre, as parents’ interest in and understanding of educational programs may change over time. It is important to note that this research was only able to observe and record what was happening in this preschool at this time with this particular group of parents. The current group of parents was broadly representative of parents at this preschool in general, and gaining feedback from them about the parent involvement program was expected to provide useful insights into current practice.

Context for the research The research was conducted in a preschool centre situated within an independent school in a regional Victorian city. The researcher is employed at this centre and has worked closely with children and families in this context for ten years. The preschool caters for 75 three to five year old children, with families typically attending for two years prior to formal schooling. This is usually families’ first contact with an educational institution, although some children have attended child care prior to beginning at the preschool. The preschool centre’s teaching philosophy is inspired by the ideas of Loris Malaguzzi and the educational project in Reggio Emilia. This philosophy shapes current work with children and families. The Reggio Emilia approach values parents’ active involvement in their child’s learning at a local and 21


whole community level, recognising the critical importance of the parent as the child’s first teacher. In Reggio Emilia the image of the child is that of someone who is “a producer of culture, values and rights, competent in living and learning” (Rinaldi, 2006, p 83). Do both parents and teachers in the Australian context understand this as valid? The aim of the research was to understand more about how parents perceive their child’s learning in order to assist in developing relevant parent/teacher activities.

Current parent/teacher activities Many varied experiences and processes form the basis of parent involvement practices at this centre. All practices involving parents were included in the study, as teachers use many formal and informal opportunities to share their child’s learning with parents. For example, at the beginning of the school year, parents and children are invited to begin the child’s ‘learning journal’ with descriptive information about their preferred activities and expectations for their time at preschool. This is the beginning of a shared approach to children’s learning while at preschool with input from children, teachers and parents. Parent involvement practices currently in use at this centre are represented by Figure 1. (For definitions and more details about these practices please refer to Appendix 1) 1.

Initial family enrolment/walk through centre

2.

Parent information night

3.

Child’s orientation visit

4.

Family welcome letter/request for family information

5.

Parent/teacher pastoral interview

6.

Newsletters

7.

Wall displays

8.

‘Daily review’ program documentation

9.

Child’s learning journal/learning stories

10. Group learning project documentation 11. Learning program specific parent information session 12. Parent participation in daily program 13. Informal discussions on arrival/departure 14. Parent participation in excursions 15. Parent/family social events 16. Mid year parent/teacher interview 17. Transition to school report

FIGURE 1 Parent involvement practices

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Participants The total number of parents invited to participate in the survey was 75, and included only parents who had experienced at least a year in the preschool. These parents would therefore have been exposed to the range of practices used by the centre throughout a typical preschool year. A letter was sent to parents of all four and five year old preschool children, and prep grade children, inviting them to participate in a questionnaire regarding their child’s learning at preschool. Parents were estimated to be between the ages of 30 and 50 years and both genders were invited to participate. The study excluded parents of children the researcher was currently teaching. At the time of the invitation to participate in the questionnaire, participants were also asked if they were willing to take part in a small group interview after the questionnaire process was complete. Participation in both the questionnaire and follow-up small group interviews was voluntary.

Questionnaire A questionnaire was used in this study in order to gain perspectives from a large group of participants. Questionnaires are considered an effective tool for collecting information from a sample of respondents in a format which can then be analysed and interpreted (Wilkinson & Birmingham, 2003). It was considered this method would allow for a wider range of views to be heard as it was not practical to interview this number of participants. The questionnaire in this research study (see Appendix 2) included 16 questions, nine of which were demographic questions. The demographic questions were included to establish the age of the children, number of years at the preschool, and whether the participants were mothers or fathers. These factors would assist in establishing that a representative sample of parents participated in the study. The other questions were open-ended and included parents’ definition of play, their expectations of preschool and their child’s learning, play as a method of learning for young children, and parents’ understanding of this. Open-ended questions are designed to allow the collection of more qualitative data (MacNaughton, Rolfe and Siraj-Blatchford, 2010). 23


Participants were also asked to rate the parent involvement practices they had participated in and the usefulness of these activities in assisting them to understand their child’s learning. These were presented as a complete list of 17 available activities (Figure 1). Questionnaires are useful in that they can capture a snapshot of a larger group of people and enlist a broad range of answers, but the depth of responses may be more limited compared to in-depth interviews. Using a combination of both questionnaires and interviews was considered to be appropriate in this research as it enabled the collection of initial data from a larger group of parents which was analysed for key words and themes prior to the group interviews. This allowed for further exploration of questionnaire themes with a smaller group of parents in the interview stage.

Interviews Two small group interviews were held, with three participants in each interview. It was initially planned to randomly select up to 15 participants, in three groups of five, to participate in the interviews. As only six parents volunteered to be part of the interview stage, the numbers of participants and their availability dictated the design of this part of the research. The interviews were semi-structured. Some questions did not get asked – the researcher was mindful of letting the participants share their experiences and discuss topics as they arose. Both interviews lasted for approximately 40 minutes. Initial questions in the small group interviews were the same as the questionnaire. Other interview questions were developed once the data from the questionnaires was analysed. Prior to the interviews, the initial questionnaire data was analysed using content analysis, looking for key words and common themes which could be further explored in the interviews. Reference was also made to the literature review to consider if similar or different themes to previous research were emerging. The purpose of the interviews was to explore participants’ ideas in more depth, and for the participants to reflect on and refine their answers together. It was expected this may produce more considered responses than an individual completing a survey, and possibly reveal a greater understanding of the topic. 24


One benefit of interviews is the ability to draw further information by questioning more deeply to gain more detailed answers. In addition, Krueger (as cited in Elliott, 2003) described how focus groups can allow participants to share their ideas and perceptions, and also allow group members to “influence each other by responding to each others’ ideas and comments in the discussion” (p 15). Small group interviews or focus groups can therefore allow for a broader range of ideas and understandings to be revealed if the interviewer allows for this. In addition, Mason (as cited in Robson, 2006), suggests that “qualitative interviewing is concerned with the construction or reconstruction of knowledge that is personal to each interviewee” (p 449). It was therefore hoped that interviewing would reveal the depth of both parents’ individual and collective understanding of the research topic. Interviews began with a summary of the questionnaire findings, to refresh participants’ minds regarding the content of the questionnaire, and to set the scene for the interview. This was followed by in-depth discussion of individual questions. Common responses were explored further with questions asking, for example, “Why do you think most parents said this?”, “How do you feel about this?” and “Do you think parents are saying …?”. Discussion was encouraged so participants could construct ideas together, as well as contribute their own thoughts. A focus of the discussion was the rating of the parent involvement practices, keeping in mind the central research question.

Data analysis The data from the questionnaires and interviews were analysed both separately and together. This was an inductive process, allowing categories and patterns to emerge from the data, rather than being created prior to data collection (McMillan & Schumacher, 2006). Initially the content of the questionnaire was closely examined to look for key words and common issues raised by parents. All responses to each question were listed, and words were colour highlighted according to their content. For example, all descriptions of children’s play as ‘fun and enjoyment’ were coloured blue, and all answers about ‘imagination’ were red. This was applied to the seven open-ended 25


questions, with each question therefore producing its own set of ideas or themes. Some themes were similar across questions, and were colour coded to match. The next step in the process was to count the coloured responses for each question to discover the most commonly cited ideas, as well as the least common and individual responses. This ‘rating’ of answers allowed the researcher to see which responses were most commonly expressed by parents and could lead to follow up questions in the interview stage. The many different responses were then refined into themes with similar content. For example, responses about interactions, sharing and taking turns became a theme entitled ‘social skills’. Comments about encouragement and facilitation became ‘teacher guidance’. In this manner, broad themes were identified and listed, and further examination of the data enabled some of these broad themes to be combined and refined. The interviews were transcribed and read several times to allow familiarisation with the data. The researcher analysed the interviews by adding commentary alongside the transcription, highlighting themes as they emerged. This commentary allows for thinking, identifying the principal ideas, and generating concepts from the data (Davies, 2007). Many of the interview themes echoed those from the questionnaire, however other themes were new. Results from the data analysis of both the questionnaire and interviews were then considered together, looking for the bigger ideas being expressed by the data. From all the data, 13 significant categories were listed and compared. These categories could be grouped under three broad themes which encompass all the major ideas from the data. A visual representation of this data analysis process can be seen in Appendix 4.

Ethical considerations Ethically, consideration needed to be given to the power relationship between the researcher as the Director of the preschool and the parents, particularly in relation to knowledge about children’s learning through play. Parents may have perceived questions were being asked which ‘tested’ their knowledge, and therefore may have answered in a particular way. The researcher’s influence on parents therefore needed 26


to be taken into account. Allowance for this was made by excluding parents of children currently being taught by the researcher. The initial online written survey was anonymous, and therefore removed the researcher from personal contact with the participants. This process was considered to free participants to respond more honestly and openly. In terms of the interviews, it has been reported that participants may respond differently depending on how they perceive the interviewer (Denscombe, 1998). This was a consideration in the current research when interviewing people known to the researcher. The impact of the researcher’s personal identity will depend on who is being interviewed. It is not the identity in its own right that affects the data, but what the researcher’s identity means as far as the person being interviewed is concerned (Denscombe, 1998, p 178).

On the other hand, the interaction between the interviewer and interviewee is critical in creating and maintaining a comfortable environment to allow free participation (Vaughn, Schumm & Sinagub, 1996). In this instance it was easy to establish a rapport with these parents as they were already known to the researcher, plus the participants were all willing volunteers. This resulted in free and open discussion, producing relevant and useful data, which will be further discussed in the findings section. The methods chapter has given background to the research by explaining the methodological approach taken, the location of the research, the nature of the parent/teacher activities being studied and the recruitment of participants. The methods used to the collect the data were described, with reference to ethical considerations. A description of the data analysis process was also included. The following chapter will detail the findings of the research.

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CHAPTER FOUR

FINDINGS

This chapter firstly documents findings in regard to the value of the parent involvement practices in relation to the research question. The chapter secondly presents findings in relation to the three broad themes described in the methods chapter and represented in Appendix 4. The findings are presented in a format which aims to give voice to the parents’ experience and understandings by using their words wherever possible.

Rating of the parent involvement practices Figure1 in Chapter 3 (p22) lists the 17 parent involvement practices currently in use at this preschool. Parents were asked in the questionnaire to rate the usefulness of parent involvement practices according to a Likert scale of five items. These ranged from very useful to not at all useful/not applicable. Most parent involvement practices were rated as being useful to parents. Further description of the results of this question can be found in Appendix 5. When the responses to practices rated as useful and very useful were combined, four practices were rated in these categories by 100% of parents. These four practices merit further consideration in the discussion of these findings and will be elaborated on in the next section of this chapter.

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The four practices were: 

child’s learning journal/learning stories

daily review program documentation

parent/teacher pastoral interview

transition to school report

In addition the following practices were rated as very useful or useful by 90 % or more of parents: 

mid year parent teacher interview

informal discussions on arrival/departure (daily verbal feedback)

wall displays

child’s orientation visit

initial family walkthrough

Results worth noting due to their lower rating by parents were as follows: 

18% of parents said parent participation in program was not applicable. This is interesting given many different ways of participation are offered at this preschool.

17% of parents felt that newsletters were only somewhat useful. Given staff expend considerable time and energy producing these, it is worth asking if this is a worthwhile use of time.

Figure 2 on the next page graphically represents parents’ answers to this questionnaire question.

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Initial family enrolment walk through centre Parent information night Child’s orientation visit Family welcome letter/request for family information Parent/teacher pastoral interview Newsletters Wall displays ‘Daily review’ program documentation Child’s learning journal/learning stories Group learning project documentation Learning program specific parent information session

Very useful Useful

Parent participation in daily program

Somewhat useful Not at all useful Not applicable

Informal discussions on arrival/departure Parent participation in excursions Parent/family social events Mid-year parent/teacher interview Transition to school report (if applicable) 0%

20%

40%

60%

80% 100%

FIGURE 2 Parents rating of the usefulness 30 of Parent involvement practices (questionnaire)


Whilst the range of questions in the interviews was similar to the questionnaire, there was more focus in the interviews on the rating of the parent involvement practices, as this was the crux of the research. There was generally very positive feedback about these practices, with parents indicating they wanted and gained information through the various means available to them. For the parents who indicated that their understanding of children’s learning through play had changed, several parent involvement practices were mentioned as important through the questionnaire and interview. Some of these are discussed below.

Documentation of learning (individual learning journals and group ‘daily reviews’) Parents indicated the value of transcripts of children’s conversations and photos, due to the detailed information contained within this documentation. It was considered to provide a window into the children’s day, particularly when parents were busy with work or other commitments. Parents commented that: The transcripts of their conversations are so important. (Interview 2) We can’t be there to see. I like to get that one story or anecdote of something they have done during the day when I pick her up. (Interview 2) I think it’s a nice way of capturing a little snapshot of a conversation that day, and it’s nice to use it as a conversation piece that night. (Interview 1)

Parents valued both individual learning journals and group daily reflections, with one parent explaining how “my child’s learning journal and the daily reflection big book have really helped raise my awareness of how the play is structured to engage the children in thinking about bigger ideas”, and another commenting that “the daily review documentation is amazing at giving an insight into how the themes of learning evolve (Questionnaire). Parents indicated they can see the individual learning in the group documentation. As one parent acknowledged: “…it doesn’t necessarily matter

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if your kid is not the person in it…you’ve still got a point where you can say Oh, you were learning about ‘imaginitis or whatever! (Interview 1) Whilst parent appreciated group documentation their comments suggest that it is also highly motivating to see your own child in the documentation. One parent explained: It shows so much of their thinking – the depth. I like to read about the group – of course we all want to see our own child, but it’s good to see the children’s faces in the photos (Interview 2)

It was also seen as important that parents could see both the teacher’s and the child’s role in conversations in the documentation. One parent felt that knowing what the teacher had said “puts in into context; how the question was asked and what the children’s responses were” (Interview 2). Another could see “the scaffolding that the teachers do; the interests arising from the children” (Interview 2). Participants indicated that messages can be taken in when they have time to read and digest the information. One parent remarked: I think it (the group reflection/daily review) is good because you can read it when you have time, are not rushed, to take it in (Interview 2)

Parent/Teacher interviews Reassurance was found to be very important to parents at the time of their child settling in to preschool. A number of parents noted that they valued individualised feedback and the teacher’s knowledge of the child, illustrated by the following quotes: It’s about settling in – that’s why it’s important. Parents are really anxious when the child is in a new setting; they want to know how they have settled; even going from one room to another (Interview 2) I think the settling in is big at that point…that sort of transition is a bit anxiety-making (Interview 1)

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Interviews were also seen as important to parents in understanding teaching philosophies; and for teachers in coming to understand and manage parents’ expectations as well. Some participants explained how teachers’ input had shaped their parenting behaviour, in particular in regard to understanding and allowing play, and not pushing academic learning too early. For example, parents revealed that : The pastoral interviews…helped me understand more about his needs and how he learns through play (Questionnaire) I learnt a lot about the benefit of holding back structured educational activities early on – that really shaped my parenting philosophy as well, I found that very useful. (Interview 1)

One parent also commented on acknowledging the importance of the role parents play at home, and the opportunity parent/teacher interviews provide for sharing this information. She explained “sometimes there’s an overlap between what happens at home and what happens at preschool, and you like to think of both supporting each other” (Interview 1).

Transition to school reports Parents felt the quality of information and level of detail in these reports communicated a real depth of understanding of the child. This is illustrated by the following quote: The quality of that information as well; it was always astute and you knew that you weren’t pulling general descriptor statements about the child…it was very targeted. It’s stuff that you might not necessarily have put into words yourself, or put into words a specific concept or action; but because of the experience of the frameworks that you have, you get to the nub of it, which is helpful for us. (Interview 1)

The teacher’s knowledge and summary in these reports was valued more highly than the parent’s input to the transition to school report as one parent expressed: 33


I found the report very informative; my part I didn’t find as useful – I think it’s more important that the school knows what the preschool teacher thinks. (Interview 2)

Daily verbal feedback Most parents in the study felt they were getting a lot of informative communication. “I’m getting so much ongoing feedback and support” (Interview 1). They believed they would be informed if there was anything teachers felt they should know about their child, indicating a high level of trust in the teachers. The interaction with teachers at the beginning and end of the day was considered important, and some parents indicated “it would be nice to have more interaction with teachers on arrival and departure” (Questionnaire). It was considered “another really important point of interaction – with the teachers and also with other parents too – you’re just touching base” (Interview 1). Daily feedback often involved the child, with the assistance of the teacher, sharing an aspect of their day with the parent. This is illustrated by the following quote from Interview 2: On Fridays I have asked the teacher if she can stay a little longer so I can come and see her (the child) in the room; maybe then she will show me something she has done or is on the wall. I find by the end of After School Care she has lost interest in showing me or forgotten.

In relation to day-to-day methods of feedback, parents indicated a definite preference for staff to be active with children rather than spending time on reports or other administration. Two parents in Interview 1 discussed this as follows: You want the teachers also to be able to have the luxury of the observation and spending time with the children as opposed to being overly focussed on the admin… I agree, I want the resources in doing exactly what you’re doing, not being in an office writing reports.

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The practices identified as less useful in the questionnaire were also discussed in the interviews in order to answer the research sub-question about whether educators are focussing on the most useful means of communicating learning.

Parent help in program Whilst this practice rated lower in the questionnaire, interview participants were able to discuss this further and indicated it was useful to be involved in the classroom “to see how the teachers interact with the children” (Interview 2). The questionnaire and interviews revealed two different views of ‘parent help’. The first view was of the parent assisting with classroom tasks, as one parent explained: “I had the mindset that it was helping out” (Interview 2). The other view represented the opportunity for parents to observe teaching and learning. “It would be nice to visit the class for a day and watch” (Questionnaire). This emphasised that parents may bring different perspectives to this parent involvement practice.

Newsletters Parents discussed the accessibility of newsletters as they are mainly online, with differing views on whether this makes them easier or more difficult to access. Distinguishing different types of newsletters and their value was important. Parents used the detailed class newsletter or termly summary for understanding the learning program, and the more information-based weekly school newsletter for dates and other important information. Parents commented: I remember them talking about what’s the themes for the next term, and then over the holidays you could talk a little bit about it. (Interview 1) I keep these newsletters on the bench for a week – not for the information, but to look back at the photos. They tell you so much – a picture paints a thousand words. (Interview 2)

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I find this one (information newsletter) very useful because I live online. I can quickly look at it between other work. I like reading about the older grades to see where my child will be heading – what she might be doing in the future. (Interview 2)

There was a general consensus in the interview groups that they were valuable, and would be missed if not available.

Social events/excursions Even though this practice rated lower in the questionnaire, it was still rated as useful by parents, as illustrated by the following quote: Last year I went on the farm excursion. It was really revealing seeing how the children interact with each other and all the learning going on. (Interview 2)

Discussion at the interview stage found that functions for fathers to participate in were valued, and parents felt it assisted their understanding of the children’s learning through play. For example, one mother commented: The fathers’ morning was very important. They got to make something and see what the children do and that does help them understand the learning. He said to me, “Did you know L. could use the tape dispenser and the stapler?” (Interview 2)

Parents ‘comparing notes’ and socialising were seen as important, including children seeing their parents in the social setting in school. I’m aware how much my son loves being involved in the end of year BBQs and that sort of thing. He enjoys seeing that dynamic of his parents being social and it’s reinforcing a positive thing, so I think in that sense there is value in it contributing to their broader development. (Interview 1)

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In addition parents were able to observe their children with their peers in these social situations, which contributed to understanding their development by being able “to put some of their comments into context as well…when you see her interact with her peers in the social situation” (Interview 1).

Other methods of feedback which may assist in understanding children’s learning One of the research sub-questions asked whether educators are focussing on the most useful methods of communicating learning, so parents were asked if they could suggest other ways educators could share learning with them. Most parents replied in the negative, indicating they were very happy with the level of feedback currently received. This ongoing feedback appeared to have allayed any concerns they may have had about their child. Parents described it as follows: We came to appreciate the incredible skill of the teaching staff, and learnt to trust their judgement… the transition to school report that we received was incredibly perceptive and illustrated just how well the teaching staff knew our daughter, and the sophistication with which they guided her preschool years to reach her potential. (Questionnaire) Observing my son and seeing him blossom is the best measure that things are working. (Questionnaire)

Some suggestions offered by parents were as follows: Communication: Some parents requested more opportunities for communication with teachers, for example: More feedback from the teachers about what the children do or experience daily. (Questionnaire)

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We would love more set parent/teacher meetings. As my husband and I both work, we find it hard to attend things mid-week and feel rushed when we pick our daughter up from After School Care. (Questionnaire)

Given there are already many options available for this exchange of information, this may suggest that parents value regular verbal feedback, in addition to written documentation. Documentation/displays: Some parents reported they would like to see more displays set up and visibility into the documentation created by the teachers. This raises the question of whether some parents need teacher guidance with some documentation to see their own child’s learning within the group. This was discussed further at the interviews and those parents believed the documentation did give them visibility into their child’s learning in the following way: The teachers go into such detail, and you can see the links to literacy and numeracy, they bring them in an interesting way. (Interview 2)

The next section of the chapter will report on the findings under the three broad themes which resulted from the data analysis. These themes were parents’ beliefs/knowledge, teachers’ knowledge/personal characteristics and children’s development/change.

Parent’s beliefs/knowledge The research found that the vast majority of parents (96%) thought it was important or very important to understand their child’s learning at preschool. When asked to define play, parents provided a broad range of definitions, which were grouped into 16 categories during coding (Figure 3). These are ordered from the most frequent response to least frequent. Close to half of the respondents mentioned fun or enjoyment in their definition of play. Many parents also understood play as involving

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imagination, interacting with others, involving learning and exploration, engaging with the world, and having unstructured free time or structured activity or sport. 1.

Involving fun or enjoyment

2.

Using imagination

3.

Interacting with others

4.

Involving learning

5.

Exploration

6.

Engaging with the world

7.

Social skills

8.

Involving unstructured free time

9.

Structured activity, games or sport

10. Entertaining oneself 11. Involving the use of props/objects/toys 12. Role playing 13. Can be indoors or outdoors 14. Independent behaviour/activity 15. Work of childhood

FIGURE 3 Parents’ definitions of play

Parents were asked in the questionnaire about their expectations of learning at preschool prior to their child starting in the program. The most often quoted expectation was social skills and interactions. This was followed by letter/word/number skills (academic skills), but cited by a significantly lower number of parents. For example, parents described their expectations as: Socialisation- getting on with others; school routines; how to interact with teachers; exposure to different people, toys and activities from those he gets at home. (Questionnaire) Interacting with other children, learning to share, learning the first steps in writing and reading, Stimulate creativity and start using social skills. (Questionnaire)

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The interviews revealed differing expectations of preschool. Some parents indicated they had no real expectations prior to starting preschool. They either had not thought them through consciously, or they just expected children to develop in the right environment, as described below: It is actually an expectation that it will evolve, that preschool will give them the right environment in which they will flourish. (Interview 1)

One parent’s expectation was of ‘school type’ formal learning: My expectations were that it would be something like when I went to school – the formal learning, but just earlier. (Interview 2)

When asked if and how their understanding of children’s learning through play had changed since taking part in parent involvement practices, the vast majority of parents indicated that their understanding of learning had changed in some way. The most commonly reported change was parents realising the importance of play. This was mentioned by half the parents surveyed in the questionnaire and also in the interviews. For example, in the questionnaire play was described by the parents as “the frame through which children investigate and interact”, and “a medium to learn, experience and develop life skills”. Parents emphasised the importance of “learning things having fun, with the children being unaware of the learning”. One parent acknowledged her new understanding of learning through play: I hadn’t considered it as so expansive until I engaged with the literature provided by the preschool and in conversation with the teachers. (Questionnaire)

As parents saw change in their children they indicated that they then understood the learning that had occurred through play. A small number of respondents asserted that there had been no real change. “I was already aware of importance of play to aid early learning; my son’s experience has really reinforced my view of this” (Questionnaire). 40


Whilst many parents could see and understand play and its developing complexity, the research found parents’ ideas could also change through exposure to their child’s preschool programs and teachers’ professional knowledge. One parent revealed: About halfway through the year I realised it was very different; the children were learning without really realising it. It was fun and a much better way of learning. (Interview 2)

Teachers’ knowledge/personal characteristics Analysis of the data revealed that parents were looking for high quality programs and identified staff attributes they considered important. These included the level of staff qualifications, nurturing behaviour, genuine interest in children and passion for their learning, and deep knowledge of individual children. Parents were able to identify a wide range of teaching and learning strategies when asked how they believed their child had learnt skills gained in preschool. The most frequently mentioned response was learning through play, followed by teacher guidance (also including encouragement and facilitation). As one parent expressed, “my child learnt through play and guidance from teachers” (Questionnaire). The next most common responses related to learning through structured play or planned activities, interaction with other children and teachers, and by stimulating discussion. This is illustrated by the following quote from the questionnaire: Through play experiences that have been carefully and thoughtfully structured to allow the children to engage in particular ways, and provide a catalyst for discussion. (Questionnaire)

Teachers were seen by all parents as crucial in children’s learning process, and that it was important that teachers really know the children. “I think it’s a real skill to be able to know how far to push, and in which context to let them go it alone and when to intervene” (Interview 1). Parents recognised the scaffolding of learning done by teachers, including modelling and knowing “when to step back and know when to 41


extend, and know how to craft and shape” (Interview 1). Parents were impressed with the depth of understanding of the teachers, and the deep involvement in the learning projects with the children. They clearly indicated they understood the difference between ‘ticking the boxes’ when implementing a curriculum framework and deep engagement with children’s learning. Parents emphasised the importance of communication with teachers, through informal means, parent/teacher interviews and teacher presentations. The teachers’ perspectives were valued, and parents indicated they learnt from teachers. For example, some participants commented on a teacher presentation on learning through play which was held the previous year. Teacher presentations on play-based learning and evidence was fascinating and gave me a more in-depth understanding of how development occurs through play e.g. themes the children showed interest in and how they explored these themes through art, stories, movement, class discussions, counting, excursions, building projects etc. (Questionnaire) That was really valuable to see what you trained teachers see in the play and the interactions, and those little videos – it was absolutely fascinating. That was a real education for me on learning through play. (Interview 1)

Children’s development/change Play was frequently mentioned by parents in the questionnaire, with parents expecting children to learn how to play and to learn through play whilst at preschool. Parents expected their children to “share toys and play with peers” and “explore, play and develop”. Parents also expected children to develop communication skills during their time at preschool, described by one parent as “listening to others, responding to ideas and expressing thoughts” (Questionnaire).

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When describing what they thought their child had learnt at preschool, the vast majority of parents mentioned socialisation skills, such as sharing, turn taking, being a group member, making friendships and cooperating. For example, they mentioned: Everything I thought regarding socialisation plus so much more. (Questionnaire) That he's part of a group outside of the family home, hopefully he has a sense of enjoyment in being in a new environment and gaining confidence at his growing independence. (Questionnaire)

These descriptions are in accord with parents’ expectations previously cited. The next most common responses regarding what their children had learnt were literacy and numeracy skills, “writes her name, recognises some letters, draws, pretends to read” (Questionnaire), and responses about the child becoming a curious, questioning learner who is able to think and communicate ideas. For example, parents stated: (She) has become a curious and questioning learner who is interested in a range of topics. (Questionnaire) We can have reflective conversations about what she has been doing, input from the teachers allows me to ask her details she may have forgotten; this can reinforce what she has learned. (Questionnaire)

Many parents also believed their child had learnt confidence, imagination, motor skills, and independence. A range of other skills identified by individual parents included exposure to different experiences and people, listening and following directions, awareness of self and their place in the world, coping mechanisms/resilience, and developing a love of learning. Interview participants commented on how children’s imaginative play had expanded and become more complex since beginning preschool. Other benefits of preschool play mentioned were being exposed to other children’s preferences, learning to play

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independently, listening and following instructions and participating and collaborating in discussions. One parent remarked: Learning to listen and follow instructions is so critical too, so I really thought they had a great balance. They knew how to sit and listen to a story and discuss in an orderly fashion, but they also had so much where they could free range and explore ideas. (Interview 1)

The findings in this chapter have initially been reported on in relation to the usefulness of the parent involvement practices in assisting parents to understand learning through play. The findings were further presented under the three broad themes which emerged during analysis of the data. The findings will be considered, discussed and evaluated in the discussion chapter which follows.

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CHAPTER FIVE

DISCUSSION

In discussing the findings and implications of this research study, it is important to refer back to the initial research question. How effectively do the parent involvement practices in a preschool assist parents to understand their child’s learning through play? In relation to the research question, the findings revealed that the parent involvement practices are the vehicle through which parents’ understanding of learning through play is enhanced. Many of these practices provide a forum for the sharing of ideas and knowledge between parents and teachers, reinforced by observation of development and change in children. This will be further elaborated on in this chapter under the three broad themes described in the previous chapter. The findings will also be interpreted in relation to the background framework of the literature review, and considering the influence of the philosophy underpinning the preschool program.

Parents’ beliefs/knowledge Given this research was about understanding parents’ perspectives on play, it was important to explore how parents define and think about play. Analysis of the data indicated they had a deep understanding of the nature of play, describing play’s many characteristics and benefits. Play seemed to be universally valued by this group of parents. This may be because parents can see their children changing and developing in many positive ways though being involved in the play-based program. Although teachers at this preschool have not necessarily redefined play as ‘inquiry’, as suggested by Youngquist & Patary-Ching (2004), there has been a change in emphasis to ‘play-based learning’ as the EYLF documents and language have become 45


absorbed into everyday practice and communication with parents. The notion of acts of play being acts of inquiry is also reinforced through the planning and documenting which uses children’s interests and questions as the basis for learning programs. In regard to the question of whether parents understood the link between play and learning, analysis of the data indicates that this was occurring. Participation in the parent involvement practices and exposure to their child’s experience at preschool made the link for parents. Parents described their experience of child care and preschool settings in terms of the perceived educational benefits of each program. This concurred with the findings of Foot et al (2002) who found that parents assigned different functions to different types of early learning settings. In the current study parents’ perceptions appeared to be related to the quality of the staff and the links between play and learning that were being made visible by staff. In another setting similar play may be occurring but the significance of the learning has not been made apparent or shared effectively with parents. Petrie and Holloway (2006) reminded teachers that parents may not be aware of the learning embedded within the playoriented curriculum. The research found that parents’ ideas were not necessarily fixed. Parents were subject to outside influences, and may have been anxious about parenting and education, being at a ‘young’ stage of their parenting. They were seeking reassurance and advice, and showed a willingness to learn and adapt parenting practices in the light of new information. Parents have a particular knowledge of their own child, but in this study were seeking the perspective of the educators. The literature supported parents’ desire for teachers to share their knowledge with them (Laloumi-Vidali, 1998; Elliott, 2003). There should not be an assumption that even in the ‘information age’ parents are seeking and finding appropriate answers to their questions about their child’s learning through the many online avenues available to them. Specific tailored information was sought by parents - delivered by someone who knows the individual child, and whose knowledge or ‘expertise’ was valued by the parent. The amount of information, the timing of this feedback and the method of delivery were important. Elliott (2003) found that parents wanted but did not receive information perceived to be held by teachers In the current study parents valued the teachers’ documentation

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which explained their child’s learning, and in general received information that they required. This study found that some parents may not have given much thought to their expectations of preschool prior to their children starting. They expected that children would naturally develop in the appropriate environment, or learn by ‘osmosis’. However, parents considered the planning of the actual learning environment to be important, as described by the following comments. (My child learnt)‘through play experiences that have been carefully and thoughtfully structured to allow the children to engage in particular ways. (Questionnaire) Interests are explored and enhanced by structured play and activities that is facilitated by the teachers but driven by the children. (Questionnaire)

Regardless of their expectations of what their child would learn at preschool, parents could recognise the change in their children when it occurred. Some parents retrospectively acknowledged ‘expectations’ of learning after they saw these changes occur. It is therefore necessary that teachers are aware of this, and that they make transparent to parents the many subtle changes occurring during children’s time at preschool. This makes the link between play and learning for parents. Teachers may have pre-conceived ideas about what parents know and expect of the program, and an awareness of parents’ ability to change and learn should be acknowledged. Educators also need to seek to understand and acknowledge and the feelings parents bring with them to preschool. For example, parents in the current study expressed relief once they realised there was no pressure for them to teach their children early academic skills, after observing their children learning in a play environment and being involved in some of the parent involvement practices. They commented that: Preschool is such a short period of time; it’s a magical time, and it’s nice it doesn’t have to be hurried…and we don’t have to put ourselves under any unnecessary pressure, as mothers.

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It’s been better for him that he’s come to it (reading) himself…and hopefully that’s part of creating the little individual who loves learning… (Interview 1)

When these parents observed change in their children, they seemed to understand and were consequently less anxious about their child’s learning. This serves as a reminder to staff of the various expectations which may be placed on parents by themselves and society in general, and the importance of understanding parents’ concerns in order to address them.

Teachers’ knowledge/personal characteristics Parents and teachers need to develop a trusting relationship when they embark upon the shared care and education of a child. Some of the preschool parent involvement practices are designed to build this trust, and the high rating of the initial pastoral parent/teacher interview indicated the importance of this to parents. They wanted to see and hear that their child had settled into preschool well, and was happy and thriving though a nurturing relationship with teachers. Swick (2004a) highlighted the importance of this parent/teacher relationship. The establishment of trust, of course, is dependent on the maintenance of a positive relationship and is only built through consistent positive interactions between the parents and caregivers (Swick, 2004a in Knopf & Swick, 2007, p 292).

Parents in the current study respected and admired the way teachers structured play/learning scenarios, and the detail with which they followed up on children’s interests. They also recognised the guidance or ‘scaffolding’ role teachers play in play-based learning. The importance of the teacher’s role in scaffolding play is reinforced in the literature (Hedges, 2000; Yelland, 2011; Roberts-Holmes, 2012). In this study there was recognition that preschool may be a better place to do this – due to resources, expertise, and the nature of group learning, and that these types of experiences were difficult to replicate in the home environment. This is relevant to the research question because it suggests that if children are developing and changing through participation in a preschool program, then it may be easier for parents to understand the learning through play that is occurring. Parents valued the exposure to 48


different experiences at preschool, both social and physical, which widened children’s world. Parents therefore showed awareness of the socio-cultural nature of learning in preschool, further indicated by the following comments about what children had learnt at preschool. Sharing, listening, following directions, contributing to conversation, asking questions to understand something, playing with others. (Questionnaire) How to interact with others, slowly building confidence with expressing herself, and also always with encouragement from the teachers, in a very positive way. (Questionnaire)

Parents also valued the depth and quality of teachers’ knowledge, recognising the influence skilled educators have in creating a quality learning program. They were able to compare a lesser quality program with a high quality program and clearly identified the characteristics of highly qualified, experienced and effective teachers. Foot et al (2000) emphasised the central role teachers play in parents’ evaluation of their preschool provision. The current study also found this, with parents describing the importance of teachers really knowing children as individual learners. One parent described her perception of the teachers as follows: During our time as parents at the ELC we came to appreciate the incredible skill of the teaching staff, and learnt to trust their judgement about the best pathway to prepare our daughter for primary school and beyond. (Questionnaire)

This is reinforced by Lawrence-Lightfoot (2003) who highlighted how important it was to parents that teachers really know their child. When parents hear the teacher capture the child that they know, they feel reassured that their child is visible in her classroom – that the teacher actually sees and knows him or her – and they get the message that she really cares (p 104).

Several of the parent involvement practices are dependent on the relationship teachers have with parents and how effectively they communicate their knowledge of the individual child to parents. These parent involvement practices will not be effective in

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assisting parents to understand learning through play without first building a trusting relationship. The literature emphasises the significance of this parent/teacher relationship and its connection with improved learning outcomes for children (LambParker and Boak, 1999; DEEWR, 2009a; Cohrssen, Church & Tayler, 2010). Parents may perceive their roles in different ways as reported in the findings, where parents seemed to be making a distinction between ‘helping out’ in the classroom and the opportunity to observe teaching. Parents in this study expressed a desire to learn from observing teachers, even though many forms of parent participation are available which would allow parents to do this. If teachers highlight the benefits in understanding learning that can be gained through these opportunities, parents may see their role in a different light. Hughes and MacNaughton (1999) emphasised this in their descriptions of different roles parents can assume within the education setting. They suggest parents may see themselves as a teacher or a program collaborator, and this may alter the way they view their child’s play at preschool.

Children’s development/change Parents in this study reported seeing changes in their children which they attributed to the preschool program. It seemed to be important that parents could see actual change in their children, reinforced by discussion of the learning program with their children and supported by the class documentation. These factors together highlighted to parents their child’s ‘widening world’, and exposure to different ideas and activities outside the family. Parents seemed to value learning though play at this stage of their child’s education, which perhaps changes in later years. This may be because everything is new to a preschool aged child, and parents have already seen their child learn many skills at home through exposure to their environment and by adult guidance. Parents appeared to understand play as the natural context or ‘leading activity’ of young children as espoused by Vygotsky (1978) and implemented by many preschool programs. Parents in this study appreciated that preschool children learn in a particular way, and that this period is a special time in the lives of children. Parents talked about the ‘fun’ time prior to ‘formal’ learning in terms of being both a unique time and also an 50


important building block on the way to formal learning. Parents realised the value of not rushing early ‘academic’ learning during their exposure to their child’s preschool experience. Parents came to understand the rich learning embedded in the play curriculum through the parent involvement practices, and their ideas often changed during this time. One parent surveyed indicated how her ideas about children’s learning had changed in the following way: The importance of play as the frame through which children learn to investigate their world, interact with others, create narratives and develop their motor coordination. I hadn't considered it as so expansive until I engaged with the literature provided by the preschool and in conversation with the teachers. (Questionnaire)

The lens through which parents viewed their child’s play appeared to change after participating in parent involvement practices. In a similar study to the current research, Robson (2006) asked parents what benefits their children gained from attending preschool. It is interesting to compare the two studies as similar questions were asked. Parents in both studies rated socialisation as the main benefit gained from attending preschool, while communication skills also rated highly in both studies. Another similarity in the findings between the two studies is the parents’ belief that their children are actually learning and gaining new skills, and that this learning is visible to parents. For example, a parent in the current study explained: (My child has learnt) everything I have thought regarding socialisation plus so much more. The learning through exploring interests and themes led by the teachers but driven by the children has been amazing. As a four year old, our son is increasingly aware of his place in the world and so interested in everything around him. (Questionnaire)

Parents see preschool as an important time to learn these social interaction skills. This is supported by the literature. Most studies, including the current research, report socialisation skills as one of the highest expectations of parents prior to starting preschool (Lockwood & Fleet, 1999; Robson, 2006; Petrie & Holloway, 2006). 51


The data in the current study revealed that children not only learnt these skills in relation to their peers, but also with adults, and that the depth of their communication skills was noted by parents. Documentation of children’s conversations allowed parents insight into this development, as they described how their child’s learning at preschool. For example, they stated their child had learnt: …through play experiences that have been carefully and thoughtfully structured to allow the children to engage in particular ways, and provide a catalyst for discussion (formal and informal). (Questionnaire) …through role play, open discussion and interaction with other children and teachers. (Questionnaire)

The parent involvement practices which involve written documentation of discussions and interactions therefore contribute to parents understanding of the learning through play. The most highly rated parent involvement practices included written and verbal feedback in the form of direct communication between teachers and parents and various types of documentation of learning. Information which was specific to their own child was highly rated, as was more general information which enhanced parents’ understanding. One parent indicated that parent teacher interviews enhanced her understanding of learning as follows: The pastoral interviews have helped me understand more about his needs and how he learns through play. (Questionnaire)

As mentioned in the literature review, there has been discussion about play versus early academic learning with some authors suggesting parents may question the value of play, and prefer earlier formal learning (Tayler, 2006; Rose & Rogers, 2012), while others assert that parents want a more holistic play-based approach (Goodfellow, 2005; Petrie & Holloway, 2006; Lockwood & Fleet, 1999). It was therefore expected that some parents in the current study would emphasise school preparation activities in their expectations of preschool, but this was not mentioned by any parent. Parents appeared to understand and value play, particularly after exposure to play-based learning in the preschool program. It appears that these parents can see the learning 52


through play via the parent involvement practices such as documentation, which may allay their concerns that their child needs to learn through more formal means. In addition, Stipek (1992) found that well-educated parents preferred child initiated, exploratory learning activities, i.e. play-based learning, as opposed to direct instruction or more formal learning. The demographic of the parents at this centre could be considered similar to that in Stipek’s study and the results concur. Caution should be exercised however in making assumptions about a group of parents, as even groups from similar socio-economic backgrounds are likely to be made up of families from a variety of educational backgrounds.

Importance of a range of parent involvement practices This study showed that parents desired information about the learning program, and used a wide range of strategies and processes to gain this information. The study also found that the complete range of parent involvement practices were useful in contributing to parents’ understanding their child’s learning. Even those which rated lower were still found to be useful or very useful by half the families surveyed. It appears that parents need to gain information through different means at different times. As one parent commented: As you learn a little more information each time so a more complete picture is achieved. (Questionnaire)

This was reinforced in the literature. As Sandberg and Vuorinen (2008) asserted, a range of opportunities for involvement establishes a culture of cooperation and leads to greater parent involvement. Parents in this study recognised that their understanding of play had changed, particularly in regard to the importance of play in young children’s learning. The method by which it changed was through talking with both teachers and their children, and reading various forms of documentation. Interestingly, whilst most parents were happy with the various methods of feedback, the parents who indicated they would like more wanted more communication, more meetings and more 53


feedback. This illustrates the importance of providing enough information to parents, and in many forms, and continually assessing their relevance and usefulness. Elliott (2005) identified ways for parents and teachers to develop a shared understanding about children’s learning and development. Information about daily routines, for example, was found to be insufficient to ensure continuity across the different contexts of school and home. This may be due to the limited value of this information to parents. The current study’s findings regarding the amount and quality of information that can be shared through documentation should allow for this continuity. Documentation of learning allows parents to have detailed information about their child’s participation and learning within the group. Parents can form opinions about their child’s progress, and question staff for further information. This leads to a more two-way type of open communication which invites parents to be part of the process.

Influence of the Reggio Emilia philosophy Sharing documentation such as children’s portfolios can provide a link between home and school and assist parents to understand children’s development (Lockwood & Fleet, 1999; Billman, Geddes & Hedges, 2005). Parents in the current study seemed to rate this visual representation of learning highly. Learning journals and ‘daily review’ documentation were rated by parents as among the most useful practices and raised parents’ awareness of learning through play. One parent described it as follows: My child's learning journal and the daily reflection big book have really helped raise my awareness of how the play is structured to engage the children in thinking about bigger ideas. (Questionnaire)

Documentation of learning is a key concept in this preschool’s interest in the philosophy from Reggio Emilia. It can be described as Visible listening, as the construction of traces (through notes, slides, videos and so on) that not only testify to the children’s learning paths and processes, but also make them possible because they are visible (Rinaldi, 2006).

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As mentioned earlier, parents in this study indicated it was important to hear the teacher’s voice in the documentation in order to understand how the learning evolved. This strategy is a deliberate pedagogical tool used at this centre, as explained by Rinaldi (1998): Documentation is a point of strength that makes timely and visible the interweaving of actions of the adults and of the children (p 120).

Documentation can make learning visible to parents, in particular showing the scaffolding role played by teachers in supporting children’s learning. Without the detailed documentation, it is unlikely that parents would see this aspect of their children’s learning. They commented on how they cannot always be there but that the documentation gives them a window into their child’s day. The practice of documenting learning is therefore very effective in assisting parents to understand learning through play. Parents in this study indicated they could understand the links made by teachers to learning frameworks in meaningful ways. The documentation also made transparent to parents how the children’s interests formed the basis of investigations, and were then built upon by teachers. Parents commented on: ...the natural flow of the kids coming up with subjects to explore based on their own interests, and not because they were told they had to. (Questionnaire) It’s the scaffolding that the teachers do; the interests arising from the children. (Interview 2)

This indicates an understanding of the importance of motivation and self-direction in learning, and the belief that children are capable of this. The strong capable child is an image held by staff at this preschool in line with the philosophy emanating from Reggio Emilia. Parents appeared to recognise this too. The findings suggest parents and teachers’ beliefs are aligned in many aspects of the preschool program, but it also suggests that this may be due to the many parent involvement practices in use at the preschool. This section is the heart of the research, answering the research question. The results of this study suggest that the parent involvement practices need to connect 55


parents’ and teachers’ beliefs and knowledge, and this is also noted in the literature (Foot et al, 2002; Elliott, 2003; Billman, Geddes & Hedges, 2005).

Parent/teacher partnerships The partnership role was mentioned by a parent in the interview and questionnaire, hoping that home and school were complementary. Foot et al (2002) and Billman, Geddes and Hedges (2005) defined a partnership as being based on equality. Results from the current research showed parents were looking for guidance from teachers, which may cast a different light on the notion of equal partnerships. However, if parents’ and teachers’ knowledge are considered to be different but complementary, this can provide a basis for common understanding. Hughes and MacNaughton (1999) discussed the relationship between ‘expertise’ and the balance of power, which often resulted in parents’ knowledge being given less significance than that of the teachers. Robson (2006) also found the balance of power in the parent/teacher relationship was weighted toward staff, but that parents were happy with this. This attitude also seemed to be reflected in the current study. Parents felt enough trust in the staff to manage things well, and that if there was an issue, staff would alert them. One parent commented: And I think too I find you so responsive. If I had any concerns I know I can talk to you, borrow a book, just get some pointers about it for discussion; that I feel like I’m getting so much ongoing feedback and support. (Interview 1)

This highlights once again the importance of developing a trusting relationship between parents and staff, something valued at this preschool and emphasised in current early years guiding practices and principles. After positive feedback about ‘transition to school reports’ that interview participants had received about their children, the topic of written feedback in the form of other reports was discussed. After further discussion, parents expressed a preference for verbal feedback as the main method of ‘reporting’, recognising the large time commitment involved in reports which may take staff away from direct contact with

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the children. Parents can therefore recognise and value a practice, but also see the bigger picture and recognise the impact this may have on the quality of the program. The discussion has considered the three broad themes arising from the results of the study and how the parent involvement practices are an essential element in the relationship between these themes. The findings were interpreted in order to answer the research question. Similarities and differences in findings between this study and previous studies were discussed, and the importance of the program philosophy was discussed as providing the context for this study. Significant findings and implications for future practice will be elaborated on in the conclusions chapter.

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CHAPTER SIX

CONCLUSION

This research project has sought to answer the following question: How effectively do the parent involvement practices in a preschool assist parents to understand their child’s learning through play? and the related sub-questions: 

How do parents understand their children’s learning through play?

Do current practices fulfil parents’ needs in understanding their child’s learning in this setting?

Are educators focussing on the most useful means of communicating learning? If not, is there a better way forward?

The research ascertained that the parent involvement practices were very effective in enabling parents’ understanding of learning through play. This study demonstrated that parents in this setting came to realise the extent and importance of play and understood the relationship between play and learning. The parent involvement practices were the vehicle through which parents consolidated, clarified and enhanced their understanding of learning through play. Providing a wide range of parent involvement practices met a variety of parents’ needs, with parents indicating they were seeking both information and reassurance from staff. The quality of the relationship between parents and teachers was essential in ensuring the information parents required was effectively shared, which was consistent with previous studies (Caddell, 1996; Robson, 2006). In developing effective relationships, it was also found to be important that teachers recognised and acknowledged parents’

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feelings, in particular their feelings of anxiety about the care and education of their children. It was found that parents shared the teachers’ view of the child as a competent learner and constructor of knowledge, and this view was further clarified and enhanced by their participation in the parent involvement program. Parents and teachers constructed knowledge together with these practices acting as a scaffold. Parents in this study demonstrated a high level of trust in and respect for teachers, which contributed to their ability to understand their child’s learning through play. They sought information form teachers and acknowledged when their understanding had changed. Whilst some parents may not have had specific expectations of their child’s learning at preschool, they could identify and report change in their child when it occurred. They were then often able to attribute this to the preschool play-based program through the many parent involvement practices which involved the sharing of information between staff and parents.

Implications of the research This study revealed several important implications for future practice both in this centre and the wider early childhood field. At the heart of all parent involvement practices is the notion of communication between parents and teachers in all its’ forms. Two areas of communication between parents and teachers were found to be most valuable in this study. These were written documentation of children’s learning and face-to-face contact between teachers and parents. Parent involvement practices involving these types of communication have been shown to be the most effective in sharing learning, and are therefore important for teachers to consider. These are further elaborated on below.

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Documentation of learning Written documentation was found to enhance parents’ understanding of their child’s learning through play. The documentation included transcripts and photos of individual children’s explorations through play and group interactions. This documentation allowed parents to see the child’s thinking, as well as the teacher’s role in the play, including the scaffolding of the child’s learning. Documentation of learning makes the learning visible for parents. Without this level of detail in the documentation, parents would not have the insights into learning they demonstrated in this study. Pedagogical documentation…is a unique source of knowledge…it is precious material for teachers, but also for the children, for the family and for whoever wishes to get closer to the strategies in children’s ways of thinking (Vecchi, as cited by Rinaldi and Moss, 2004).

It is therefore important for teachers in both this setting and others to recognise the potential for sharing learning through pedagogical documentation. Teachers need to reinforce for parents the link between the play activities observed and their children’s thinking and learning. This may be an area for professional development within the broader early childhood field. The National Quality Standard reinforces the importance of teachers sharing meaningful documentation which makes children’s learning visible with families (ACECQA, 2011). Teachers will be required to develop skills in recognising and creating documentation which shows learning as opposed to just recording children’s participation in learning experiences. Preparing documentation can be very time-consuming, so it is essential that any documentation produced is of high quality and serves its purpose of sharing thinking and learning. It is also important that the time taken to produce this documentation does not detract from teachers’ time working directly with children.

Face-to-face contact Face-to-face contact between parents and teachers was found to be critical for relationship building and working in collaborative partnerships. Highly rated parent involvement practices emphasised the importance of this interpersonal contact 60


between parents and teachers, whether it be through formal interviews or ongoing daily informal feedback. Close contact between parents and teachers allows teachers to be specific and upfront about what children will learn or are learning. This creates transparency for parents, thus reducing anxiety or uncertainty about their child’s learning. The ability to speak on a one-to-one basis with a teacher is critical for parents to hear that the teacher not only knows their child as an individual, but has heard the parent’s specific concerns as well. Consideration should be given to creating the time and space for quality individual interactions between teachers and parents, as these interactions are of necessity often carried out at busy transition times at the beginning and end of the day. The research revealed that current practices are therefore fulfilling parents’ needs in understanding their child’s learning through play. The study provided valuable information regarding which of the many parent involvement practices teachers should focus on to communicate learning to parents and this has implications for planning future practices in this setting. Emphasis should be given to documentation of children’s learning, in particular that documentation which makes the individual child’s learning visible. In this setting this is achieved both through individual learning journals and group daily reviews. Group documentation adds another dimension to the individual child’s learning, by placing it within the context of the group of learners, making evident the socio-cultural nature of young children’s learning. The research also indicated that careful attention needs to be given to development of meaningful relationships between teachers and parents, to effectively share children’s learning. The setting for the research enables this through many parent involvement practices, and with families attending the centre for two or three years there is a greater opportunity for ongoing relationships to be formed. In another setting where children attend for less hours per week for only one year of preschool, it is acknowledged that this may be more difficult to achieve, and different strategies may be needed to address this. It is also important to note that while several parent involvement practices were found to be most effective in communicating learning, the full range of practices were considered useful in some way to the group of parents surveyed. This has implications 61


for teachers in other early childhood settings, who may consider their own parent involvement practices, and evaluate them in the light of their parent group. Centres may have access to varying resources in terms of expertise, time and finances, which may dictate the type and amount of parent involvement practices offered. The knowledge that a wide range of parent involvement practices are useful in communicating learning through play may assist teachers to apply these findings in their own area. Another important implication of the research is its contribution to the discussion regarding play-based learning versus academic learning in the early years. The issue of preparing children for the formal learning at school was found to be less important to parents in this setting than teachers may have perceived. It is suggested this was because parents could see their child learning through play via the documentation, and through the high level of face-to face communication between teachers and parents. The parent involvement practices alleviated parents’ expectations regarding ‘pushing’ their children academically as they saw their children flourishing in the play-based program. Previous research demonstrated that while some parents valued a more holistic approach to children’s learning (Lockwood and Fleet, 1999; Petrie &Holloway, 2006), others saw preschool as the most important time to prepare children for formal schooling (Foot et al, 2000). The current study contributes to the body of literature on this subject by indicating that parent involvement practices can enhance parents’ understanding of the educational benefits of play in the early years. Whilst parents may be able to articulate their children’s learning through play, teachers need to continue to work with parents in a variety of ways to further this understanding, as reinforced by Robson (2006). The parent involvement practices need to support parents and teachers to work together to achieve mutually understood learning goals for children.

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Strengths and limitations of the study A strength of this research was its’ contribution to the limited literature surrounding parents’ perspectives about their children’s learning. The qualitative exploration of parents’ ideas, feelings and beliefs offered a unique insight into their daily experience and understanding. In addition, the research gave a voice to the current group of parents, who are representative of parents at this preschool at this point in time. Gaining feedback from them about the parent involvement program provided valuable insights into current practice. It was important to offer parents at this preschool the opportunity to contribute feedback on their own parent programs, as each community can discover individual solutions to meet their needs. Different schools can and should meet families’ needs in completely different ways, as has been demonstrated in previous research. As Robson (2006) stated, All of these (reasons why parents become involved) are personal, and individual, factors, and similarly individual, qualitative ways are needed to ‘measure’ the success of parental involvement initiatives in any centre (p 458).

Local cultural and community relevance is also reinforced in the Australian National Quality Standard and the Early Years Learning Framework. Whilst promoting an overarching philosophy and standard for best practice, recognition is given to meeting the needs of local communities in individual ways. This research contributed to the understanding of parents’ perceptions in this setting, and therefore has implications for planning future parent involvement practices in this centre and other similar preschools. Another strength of the study was the methodological design of surveying by both questionnaire and interview. The questionnaire elicited a broad range of responses, revealing key themes which were explored in more depth during the interviews. This design allowed a greater number of parents to participate in the research, thus achieving a more representative sample. Some limitations of the research should also be acknowledged. The sample size in the study was quite small as it was a survey of one group of parents at this preschool. Whilst it is not possible to generalise from one case study to the general population of 63


parents, this study highlighted factors common to parents in this preschool. The researcher was interested in the quality of the data, as opposed to the quantity. Whilst the small number of interview participants could be seen as a limitation, when combined with the questionnaire group they produced detailed data. Another potential limitation of the interviews is the parents who volunteered tend to be from a similar socioeconomic group and educational level. This can however be seen as both an advantage and a limitation. This group of parents were able to clearly articulate both their educational goals for their children and the change in their understanding of their children’s learning. They had an in-depth understanding of the educational aims of the preschool, and highly valued education for their children, but they only represent one section of the parent population at this preschool.

Suggestions for further research Whilst the results from this study were specific to this context, the study does offer interesting opportunities for further research both locally and in the wider early childhood field. In this context, it would be of interest to compare first time parents with parents of second and third children to see how their understanding of learning through play differed according to their parenting experience and exposure to the parent involvement practices over time. Further research could also explore and compare preschool and lower primary parents’ perspectives on play as a learning tool. How and why do teachers and parents change the focus from children’s ability to learn through play and hands-on learning to other more formal means? In the wider early childhood field, the study could be replicated in another setting with different demographics and different forms of parent involvement to see if similar results were obtained. Whilst this study focussed on the experiences of parents of preschool children, further research could seek feedback from parents of infants and toddlers in long day care settings. Different parent involvement practices may be applicable to the mainly working parents who use these services, and it would be of interest to understand which were most effective. It is acknowledged that different methodological approaches may be needed in other settings.

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Concluding comments This study has added to the body of literature regarding parents’ perceptions of early childhood programs and learning through play. By allowing parents’ voices to be heard, parents and teachers’ ability to create and share understandings has been highlighted, and the power of documentation to make learning visible has been reinforced. Ultimately this will lead to greater understanding by parents of young children’s learning through play. The relationship between parent involvement practices and parents’ understanding of play is likely to be of interest and beneficial to teachers and parents in other early childhood services The results of this research will be shared with similar early childhood settings and more widely within the early childhood field, and it is thus hoped the research will make a valuable contribution to current and future practice.

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APPENDIX 1 Definitions of Parent involvement practices

1.

Initial family enrolment/walk through centre - family tour to view the preschool prior to enrolment

2.

Parent information night - late in the year prior to entry, a general information group presentation about all aspects of the preschool program; time to view classrooms and meet teachers

3.

Child’s orientation visit - late in the year prior to entry, a short visit for children and parents to participate in preschool activities and become familiar with the environment

4.

Family welcome letter/request for family information –a short survey for parents to share information about their child with staff to begin the child’s learning journal

5.

Parent/teacher pastoral interview – held early in the first term; for teachers to learn more from parents about the child, and to let parents know how the child has settled into preschool

6.

Newsletters – regular online and hard copy daily information and learning program details

7.

Wall displays – visual displays of children’s artwork, conversations, photographs etc to make learning projects visible to parents and visitors

8.

‘Daily review’ program documentation – description of activities and events (though photos, transcripts of conversations, drawings etc) to inform parents and visitors about the daily program; may also be described as ‘group reflections’

9.

Child’s learning journal/learning stories- individual folder containing samples of a child’s work, selected by teachers and children, with parent input also encouraged. Contains ‘learning stories’ written by teachers detailing significant moments in a child’s learning.

10.

Group learning project documentation – documentation describing the development of a group project involving a number of children; may be presented as a summary book at the end of a project

11.

Learning program specific parent information session – group presentation by teachers to parents on a particular topic of interest; usually expanding in more detail an aspect of the learning program

12.

Parent participation in daily program – parents spending a morning assisting in the classroom with the whole group of children or working specifically with their child as part of a project

13.

Informal discussions on arrival/departure – brief chats to staff when delivering or collecting children from the preschool; may be about items of a practical nature, or comments/feedback on something significant the child has participated in that day

14.

Parent participation in excursions –assisting staff provide supervision for small groups of children

15.

Parent/family social events – family picnics at start and end of school year; Mothers/Fathers mornings special events; parent morning teas; weekend visits to places of interest for families organised by staff

16.

Mid year parent/teacher interview – an opportunity for teachers to report to parents on a child’s progress; sharing achievements and highlighting any areas of need

17.

Transition to school report - a detailed report to be passed onto the child’s new school/Prep teacher, describing all aspects of the child’s development and progress, with input from the teacher, parent and child

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APPENDIX 2

Questionnaire questions

1.

What is the age of your child?

2.

What is the gender of your child?

3.

Is this your first, second, third or later child attending the preschool?

4.

Is this the first educational institution your child has attended?

5.

Which year of preschool or school is your child currently attending?

6.

Can you please define play?

7.

How important is it to understand your child's learning at preschool?

8.

What did you expect your child would learn at preschool before starting?

9.

What do you think your child has learnt at preschool?

10.

How do you think your child has learnt this?

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11.

Can you indicate the usefulness of the following practices you have used to gain information about your child's learning at preschool? (Scale: Very useful/Useful/Somewhat useful/Not at all useful)

1.

Initial family enrolment/walk through centre

2.

Parent information night

3.

Child’s orientation visit

4.

Family welcome letter/request for family information

5.

Parent/teacher pastoral interview

6.

Newsletters

7.

Wall displays

8.

‘Daily review’ program documentation

9.

Child’s learning journal/learning stories

10. Group learning project documentation 11. Learning program specific parent information session 12. Parent participation in daily program 13. Informal discussions on arrival/departure 14. Parent participation in excursions 15. Parent/family social events 16. Mid year parent/teacher interview 17. Transition to school report (if applicable)

FIGURE 1 Parent involvement practices

12.

Can you please explain if and how your understanding of children’s learning through play has changed since taking part in these practices?

13.

Are there any other methods of feedback which would assist you in understanding your child’s learning?

14.

What is your gender?

15.

Which category below includes your age?

16.

Are you interested in taking part in a small group interview to further discuss the questions and findings of the research? (This would be held at the school at a mutually convenient time, and child care can be arranged.)

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APPENDIX 3 Interview Schedule

Thankyou for your interest and willingness to participate in this research. I will first explain some background to the research, and some of the responses we have gathered so far. The key research question is: How effectively do the parent involvement practices in a preschool assist parents to understand their child’s learning through play? We received very useful feedback during the survey. The purpose of the group interview is to explore some of the ideas raised in the survey further and to clarify some of the responses by asking for your feedback. Interview questions: 1. The survey revealed that parents had many different ways of defining play. (summarise results) Would you define play at preschool as different to play at home or other settings? If they are different, what are the similarities? 2. Several parents mentioned play as part of their expectations of children’s learning at preschool. Eg ‘to play with others’, ‘learn how to play together’, ‘explore, play and develop’. It seems like parents are articulating this as a learning expectation. How important do you think play is in preschool learning? 3. Some parents indicated their expectations were different to the reality of preschool. Do you think parent’s expectations of their child’s learning at preschool changes once the child starts? If so, how does this happen? 4. Are there any things you found your child learnt that you didn’t expect? 5. Most parents indicated the children learnt though play and teacher guidance – how important is each of these? 6. These four parent involvement practices were highly rated in the survey - child’s learning journal/learning stories, ‘daily review’ program documentation, parent/teacher pastoral 69


interview, and transition to school report. What do you think it is about these practices that make them so valuable to parents in understanding learning? 7. The following practices were also rated as very useful or useful - initial family walkthrough, child’s orientation visit, informal discussions on arrival/departure, wall displays, mid-year parent teacher interview. I would like your feedback on these other practices. How do you think they contribute to parents’ understandings? 8. Practices that were not rated as useful as others included newsletters –why do you think this is so? 9. One quarter of respondents found social events a useful practice in understanding learning– why do you think these events might be perceived as useful in understanding children’s learning? 10. 30% of parents said learning program specific information session was not applicable. Would you like to comment on the usefulness of presentations such as these? 11. Thinking about all these parent involvement practices, how has your understanding of play changed since being involved in these practices? 12. Some responses from parents indicated they would like more feedback from the teachers about children’s experiences. We already offer many methods of feedback. Can you think of other methods of feedback that might be useful?

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APPENDIX 4 Thematic data analysis of questionnaires and interviews.

Questionnaire themes 1. Parents’ understanding of learning through play can change 2. Parents realise importance of play 3. Parents trust teachers and their skills 4. Importance of parents’ communication (with teachers and children) 5. Importance of teachers’ knowledge and personal characteristics 6. Importance of teacher guidance 7. Teachers carefully structure the play 8. Importance of many different parent involvement practices to meet differing needs at different times 9. Children change and parents see this 10. Exposure to new experiences 11. Parents have a good understanding of play and learning through play 12. Children’s communication and socialisation skills 13. Importance of imagination in play

Interview themes 1. Parents’ ideas and expectations change over time

Broad themes 1.Parents’ belief/knowledge

2. Parents can and want to learn 3. There are many outside influences on parenting 4. Parents want to know what’s going on in the program 5. Teachers have a lot of knowledge of the child

2. Teachers’ knowledge

6. Important role of teacher in guiding play 7. Teachers’ depth of understanding 8. Importance of documentation and ‘seeing’ into the documentation 9. Children change and parents see this 10. Children’s widening world 11. Importance of play versus academic learning 12. Uniqueness of the preschool period 13. Importance of imagination in play

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3. Children’s change and development


APPENDIX 5 Parents rating of parent involvement practices (questionnaire)

The percentage of parents who found the following practices very useful were as follows: 1. Child’s learning journal/learning stories (91%) 2. Transition to school report (80% of those eligible) 3. Mid-year parent/teacher interview (78%) 4. ‘Daily review’ program documentation (69%) 5. Parent/teacher pastoral interview (63%) 6. Wall displays (62%) 7. Child’s orientation visit (54%) 8. Initial family walkthough/informal discussions on arrival/departure (50%) 9. Group learning project information/parent information night/newsletters(48%) 10. Parent participation in excursions (45%) 11. Family welcome letter/request for information (41%) 12. Parent participation in program (36%) 13. Learning specific parent information session (35%) 14. Parent/family social events (27%) When the useful and very useful responses were combined, four parent involvement practices were rated in these categories by 100% of parents. These four practices were: child’s learning journal/learning stories, ‘daily review’ program documentation, parent/teacher pastoral interview and transition to school report. In addition the following practices were rated as very useful or useful by 90 % or more parents. Mid-year parent teacher interview, informal discussions on arrival/departure, wall displays, child’s orientation visit and initial family walkthough. Results worth noting due to their lower rating by parents were as follows: 18% of parents said parent participation in program was not applicable, while 17% of parents felt that newsletters were only somewhat useful.

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Approval Human Research Ethics Committee

Principal Researcher:

Michelle Ortlipp

Other/Student Researcher/s:

Susan Emmett Rosalind Molyneux

School/Section:

SEA

Project Number:

A12-002

Project Title:

Parents’ Perspectives on Play: Parents’ understanding of preschool children’s learning through play-based teaching

For the period:

21/2/2012

to

01/07/2013

REPORTS TO HREC: An annual report for this project must be submitted to the Ethics Officer on: 21 February 2013 http://guerin.ballarat.edu.au/ard/ubresearch/hdrs/ethics/humanethics/docs/annual_report.doc

A final report for this project must be submitted to the Ethics Officer on: 1 August 2013 http://guerin.ballarat.edu.au/ard/ubresearch/hdrs/ethics/humanethics/docs/final_report.doc

Ethics Officer 21 February 2012

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Approval Human Research Ethics Committee

CONDITIONS OF APPROVAL 1.

The project must be conducted in accordance with the approved application, including any conditions and amendments that have been approved. You must comply with all of the conditions imposed by the HREC, and any subsequent conditions that the HREC may require.

2.

You must report immediately anything which might affect ethical acceptance of your project, including: -

Adverse effects on participants; Significant unforeseen events; Other matters that might affect continued ethical acceptability of the project.

3.

Where approval has been given subject to the submission of copies of documents such as letters of support or approvals from third parties, these must be provided to the Ethics Office before the research may commence at each relevant location.

4.

Proposed changes or amendments to the research must be applied for, using a ‘Request for Amendments’ form, and approved by the HREC before these may be implemented.

5.

If an extension is required beyond the approved end date of the project, a ‘Request for Extension’ should be submitted, allowing sufficient time for its consideration by the committee. Extensions cannot be granted retrospectively.

6.

If changes are to be made to the project’s personnel, a ‘Changes to Personnel’ form should be submitted for approval.

7.

An ‘Annual Report’ must be provided by the due date specified each year for the project to have continuing approval.

8.

A ‘Final Report’ must be provided at the conclusion of the project.

9.

If, for any reason, the project does not proceed or is discontinued, you must advise the committee in writing, using a ‘Final Report’ form.

10.

You must advise the HREC immediately, in writing, if any complaint is made about the conduct of the project.

11.

You must notify the Ethics Office of any changes in contact details including address, phone number and email address.

12.

The HREC may conduct random audits and / or require additional reports concerning the research project. Failure to comply with the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007) and with the conditions of approval will result in suspension or withdrawal of approval.

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Profile for Geelong College

Research - 'Parents' perspectives on play  

Thesis by Ros Molyneux - Director of Early LEarning at The Geelong College

Research - 'Parents' perspectives on play  

Thesis by Ros Molyneux - Director of Early LEarning at The Geelong College

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