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How to build positive relationships in early years

Forming strong relationships with both children and parents will help pupils settle in to Reception, says Nicky Clements

Child with tie

Forming strong relationships with both children and parents will help pupils settle in to Reception, says Nicky Clements

Relationships are at the heart of teaching – and EYFS is no exception.

At this time of year, establishing positive relationships between teachers, children and their parents is crucial for ensuring that children effectively make the transition from their home environment to the nursery or reception classroom.

But what is the best approach to forming those relationships?

In a study published in 2018, Janine Hostettler Scharer discusses the emphasis that is often placed on attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969) in relationship-based approaches, where “relationship partners respect and value each other within their multiple spheres of interaction”.

However, she also found that “during the child’s transition the needs, fears and expectations of all three parties [child, parent and teacher] come together”.

Relationships in early years

Attachment theory would suggest that having one primary adult who can observe and meet the needs of the child by responding to their cues allows for an emotionally secure settling period. Consequently, a key worker is an EYFS statutory requirement.

But Scharer found that one of the main concerns of the teachers she worked with was the inflexibility of this structure when it came to managing shifts and responsibilities. And another area of concern was maintaining professionalism – both with the child and their parents.

How can these issues be overcome during the settling period so that positive, professional relationships are formed with both children and parents?

Here are some tried and tested ideas:

  1. There must be a named key worker and perhaps a key group for each child. But in a school setting where there may be only two members of staff for this stage, it is important that both are visible and active. To avoid attachment issues, they should regularly cover different routines with both children and parents.
  2. Be flexible – a child may naturally gravitate towards a different member of staff to their assigned key worker.
  3. While an open-door policy is great, there may be restrictions on how "open" this can realistically be. Be clear with parents exactly when you are available to speak to them and how they can communicate with you.
  4. Introduce a "journal" for parents to contribute to. I used a "parent/pupil voice" book to share child voice/interest, and gave parents the opportunity to add responses. Many of the online learning journeys now used in classrooms support sharing with and input from parents.
  5. Ask parents to make a decorated "chatterbox" at home with their child and fill this with all their "likes" as conversation starters: pictures, photos of family and pets, postcards. Parents will feel involved and these boxes are great for encouraging a child’s language development and improving your knowledge of the family.
  6. Offer "stay and play" or storytelling sessions where the parent gets a chance to see you interact with the child and vice versa.
  7. Don’t be afraid to make it clear to parents what is acceptable or unacceptable, if necessary: for example, using a mobile phone in the classroom. You are the professional and as such your first loyalty and priority is to the children. On a similar note, consistent boundaries and expectations for behaviour and routines that are observed by all staff will be reassuring to the children.

Nicky Clements is director of EYFS at Victoria Academies Trust

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