In this blog, Anna-Louise Van Der Merwe from the Foundation Years Trust, writes about their work to embed the home learning environment across Wirral’s early years sector. 

Foundation Years Trust (FYT) works with nurseries and parents to embed the home learning environment across Wirral’s early years sector. In 2018, FYT had established a local campaign to support our work called #parents make the difference (#PMTD). Our idea was that a campaign could help link up the Home Learning Environment groups that we deliver in community settings and through nursery settings and share messages to a wider audience on the importance of the home learning environment. We knew we would never reach all the families we wanted to through the group approach. We also recognised the need to change the conversation on how important parents are for their child’s early development. To change the conversation effectively, we would need messaging that would reach all the different parts of our communities.

When the DfE’s Hungry Little Minds campaign was announced, it presented us with the ideal opportunity to unite more stakeholders in the borough around a tool which could help us to promote early years speech and language development in a cohesive way. The messages complemented those FYT was already putting out – even the logos went well together! It also enhanced the ongoing work in the borough to develop a clear speech and language pathway for families and professionals.

Partnerships quickly developed around Hungry Little Minds

Guided by the National Literacy Trust and the DfE, FYT began to establish a place-based campaign which would incorporate Hungry Little Minds into existing local brands that were already familiar to our families.

In the last three months, the common tool has enabled us to strengthen our partnership with Wirral’s Early Childhood Services who are leading the work on the speech and language pathway.  We pulled together a multi-agency steering committee with representatives from the nursery sector; the children’s centres; health visitors who had simultaneously been cascading the PHE training on speech and language development; Wirral libraries who coordinate the Book Start programme and with other charities working with families with young children.

From the private sector, Arriva North West Buses have helped us by decorating the ceilings of two buses prompting parents to play games and chat to their children while travelling.

Initiatives that had been running side by side were now starting to link up, clarifying our complementary roles in promoting the home learning environment in the borough. We are talking the same language with each other and with our families.

Using Hungry Little Minds as a shared tool didn’t only help us come together on strategic development but it has encouraged joint staff working on events such as the launch of the Hungry Little Minds buses, story time on the bus for National Story Week and we had just started to rollout our Magical Little World interactive pop up gazebo for parents and children in nurseries and libraries before we had to pull back on public events.

So, what next?

Writing this in the first week of lock-down we are rapidly reassessing our plans for the next few months.  Our ambitions to engage parents in codesigning the campaign events and to promote parent leadership through the initiative will need to change shape; our planned Hungry Little Minds family events have all been cancelled.  Probably like you we are ramping up our social media base to reach parents with ideas, tips and support as we all get used to our new restrictions.

It’s clear that the home learning environment and supporting parents in their role as their child’s foremost educator, has never been more critical.  Its going to take us all a while to find our feet but we aim to use this time to get Hungry Little Minds out there as a trusted local source which connects, engages and supports our parents through this period.  And when we come out the other side, we want our parents to feel proud of their unique ability to support their children’s development.