Making learning visible for parents


Back to School

How I try to avoid those signs that appear each year as soon as the summer holidays begin but recently those words have been so eagerly anticipated by educators around the world. While I’m sure we all enjoyed our new morning commute, transforming our homes into remote classrooms came with many challenges. Balancing home schooling with home teaching, switching off while surrounded by reminders of the working day, finding time to take breaks and reduce screen time are a few of the many challenges we’ve faced during this time. I’m still finding stray Numicon lurking around my apartment, serving as regular reminders of my online learning experiences.

Reimagining “back to school”

Whether you are an educator who survived or thrived during this challenging time; it’s important that we use this experience to reflect on our classroom approaches and consider rethinking aspects of our pedagogy before returning to our usual routines and practice. Throughout my teaching career I’ve encountered frustrations with the education system we operate inside, often wondering how to make changes that can more positively impact my students. How can we give more time and space to inquiry and exploration, to making meaningful connections, to play? During lockdown I vowed to take more of a Marie Kondo approach to declutter my small apartment but what if we applied the same principles to our curriculum? “Discard everything that does not spark joy” and build it from there.

My biggest success during online learning was the connection between home and school. The importance of this parental partnership was not new to us but due to the nature of remote learning, working together became even more crucial than before. As teachers we gained a valuable insight into family life, children’s home interests and gained more awareness about what each family in our class valued most. Parents are known to be a children’s first teacher (See – Reggio Emilia Approach) and I really valued the opportunity to help strengthen this relationship as we all worked together to deepen their involvement in their child’s education. I am a huge advocate for letting children learn through their own developing interests but the changing dynamic of work and home schooling meant that parents and children were able to discover and develop their own family interests and to use these as vehicles for learning. I saw parents’ relief and then excitement in the freedom of teaching their child through gardening, putting together IKEA furniture, baking and even teaching maths through GarageBand.

Discoveries about involving parents

As an Early Years Practitioner, finding ways to teach the children online was almost impossible without involving the parents in this process. Initially we realised that although we had planned to share what the children were learning, we had not supported parents enough to understand why we were learning in the ways we had planned. In order to address this, our team began creating separate videos for parents to help them discover their role in their child’s learning and to gain a deeper understanding into why the learning had been structured in a way that may be very unfamiliar to their own educational experiences.

Here is a video of Becky Carlzon and I sharing some top tips to parents at the beginning of the week to help them to support their child’s learning at home.

Through discussions with the Learning Pioneers and working with Kath Murdoch, we were able to find ways to explain the importance of allowing the children to discover learning for themselves, through play and inquiry and saw what a huge impact this had on the educational partnership between staff and parents.

Since then, the Learning Pioneers have been engaging in a book study, looking at ‘The Power of Making Thinking Visible’ which has led me to consider how we make thinking visible to parents. We all know what an essential part of children’s learning and development parents are but how can we build on the connections and partnerships developed through online learning now we are ‘Back to School’?

So what?

Using this experience and building on the positive involvement of parents, I have now continued to plan for how I can support the parents’ learning in greater depth so they are better able to support their children and can take a more active role in developing the skills taught in school.

Involving parents in environment planning.

Placing our environment planning in a visible location in the classroom has been a simple and effective first step. By sharing what learning may happen throughout the environment and some examples of how this could look in play has supported parental engagement during the time when they join in with our class for the first 20 minutes of the day.

Making the journey of learning visible to parents.

My next step was to create some graphics to demonstrate the learning journey students have been on, especially when they are ‘just playing’. This was particularly effective to demonstrate the role of the adult as a partner in play and the use of open ended language such as ‘I wonder’. Using these visual insights into the children’s thinking in a variety of ways has given parents the opportunity to reflect and observe their own child’s play and excitedly share the language and thinking that they have noticed. I have had lots of valuable feedback from parents about the impact of these visuals; how these have supported the parents’ conversations with their child about their learning but also in supporting adults in realising the depth of discovery their child has been exploring through play and inquiry.

Now what?

Having created an enabling environment for parental partnerships, I am so excited about the dialogue that this has created and the questions that parents have begun to ask to find out more about the learning process. The graphics have been a great way to show this visually however I am planning to take this further by using QR codes linked to videos of the children in those learning moments. I am particularly keen to show examples of children struggling with learning and having the time and space to grapple with their ideas without adults stepping in to ‘save’ them. I would love to include examples of learning from home as the parents have begun to share an increasing amount of observations from home and hope to see these begin to mirror the open ended learning that takes place in school with adults as play partners rather than leading interactions.

Throughout my online learning experience and the transition ‘back to school’, I have been able to gain such valuable insight into the successes and challenges of practitioners around the world as a Learning Pioneer. Exploring new ideas and problem solving with a team of creative, innovative educators gave me the encouragement to dive deeper into the connection with parents and made me reflect on the best ways to continue this.

With online learning strengthening our home school partnerships, how will you build on this further now back in the classroom?  

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Post written by:

Louise Heard

Louise Heard is a UK trained Primary School teacher who now works in a British International School in Luxembourgh. She is a passionate advocate for play based, child-led learning that inspires and motivates students to develop and sustain their own love of learning. Louise has been a Learning Pioneer since 2020 where she benefits from sharing ideas with this incredible community and first hand dialogue with leading thinkers and theorists in education. As a LP Advocate, she is enthusiastic about supporting other educators on their own journey and is excited by the impact that Learning Pioneers has on professional learning across the globe.


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