Parents play a crucial role in creating an environment which nurtures children’s learning, through warm relationships where children are valued and listened to, their contributions and ideas are taken seriously, and their language development and independent thinking are encouraged2.
The vital importance of children having a safe and nurturing home to underpin their learning is increasingly recognised. Research shows that the home learning environment is a critically important predictor of differences in children’s academic and social development1. Accordingly, the National Children’s Bureau says that when parents use “meaningful activities to encourage thinking and talking to stretch a child’s mind as part of everyday life” that it can significantly enhance their child’s development2.
To help increase knowledge about creating effective home learning environments, Triple P UK recently took part in a research project with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and Shine, two organisations focussed on helping improve educational outcomes for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The project worked with Early Years settings in the North of England, giving parents new strategies to boost the home learning environment. As part of the research, Level 4 Group Triple P was evaluated for its ability to help parents promote speech and language development of three- and four-year-olds as well as their social, emotional and behavioural well-being (all of which help improve school readiness and learning).
Group Triple P is an 8-week programme covering a wide range of strategies helping encourage learning, supporting children’s emotional needs, encouraging more positive child behaviour and parental self-care.
As part of the research trial, 62 educators were trained and accredited to deliver Level 4 Group Triple P to parents. Among them were Stuart Robertson, Deputy Head at Victoria Infants and Nursery School in Workington, Cumbria, and Sarah Milligan, Nursery Teacher.
Stuart and Sarah’s key aims were to boost communication between parents and their children and help create more coordination between the home and school environment. One of their concerns was the number of young pupils arriving at school watching videos on parents’ mobile phones, rather than being engaged in conversation. However, once they started their Triple P sessions, they quickly noticed changes.
“It’s so easy for parents to become wrapped up in life, and consumed by everything they have to juggle,” says Stuart. “But once we conveyed the importance of communication for a child’s development to the families, the parents responded brilliantly”.
Parents began to understand that even normal, everyday conversations with children were actually important learning experiences.
“Parents were wired into thinking that quality time would mean spending money and carving out extra time,” Stuart explains.
“But really, it’s as simple as just spending time with their child, engaging on the bus, chatting to them about what they’re buying on the shopping trip, or talking around the dinner table about what they’re eating. The Triple P sessions helped parents readjust their thinking, and realise they have the power to teach their child.”
Parents were provided with a range of tips to improve their children’s communications skills and chose what best suited their family. Practical tips included:
Sarah gave the example of one parent who was having particular trouble on the journey to and from school. She had a number of young children, one in a pram, and frequent misbehaviour and unhappiness made the daily journey quite challenging.
“By the end of the programme, there were significant improvements – the children happily walked along, beside the pram, engaged in conversation with each other,” says Sarah.
“Using the tools and skills learnt during the sessions, this parent also got the children into a new bedtime routine, and noticed them becoming confident and, most significantly, happy to talk to more adults – which was something they hadn’t done much of beforehand.”
Improved relationships within other families were reported, too. One parent was reluctant to engage initially, but after the second and third Triple P sessions, they really started to join in and understand the impact small changes could have. The parent said that small changes in his mindset and the way he chose to engage with his daughters had given him a much more meaningful relationship with them.
Another parent and child had a tricky relationship but saw great changes after undertaking Triple P. Staff had been aware of a frequent battle-of-wills and an increasing number of arguments. Once the parent changed their approach, they were able to build on the positive communication between them and their child, which sparked a broader positive change in the family environment. Educators noticed a difference in the family’s relationship: the parent and child became warmer towards each other and the parent was more likely to put their phone away and engage in conversation.
The EEF study of the Level 4 Triple P Positive Programme on children’s language development and social, emotional and behavioural wellbeing was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and formal quantitative evaluation of language development was not possible.
However, many parents and practitioners shared meaningful qualitative examples of improvements in children’s behaviour and communication, similar to those outlined here. The majority of settings report they intend to continue delivering Triple P to families.
Stuart and Sarah also say they plan to continue delivering Triple P, as they firmly believe both the school and families benefit enormously. Victoria Infants is also looking at expanding the programme so that educators in other year groups, beyond their nursery class, can also deliver Triple P.