Being a Creative Champion: engaging parents

14 June 2019

On the wall of a nursery somewhere in Scotland, there is a crumpled orange sheet of paper – there’s a tear halfway across, and a single, jagged line of green crayon. Underneath an adult has written: ‘“Ah did it! Ah did it!” Owen, age 3’.


As Starcatchers’ Creative Skills Manager, I’ve lost count of the number of times people have said to me in the past five years “we really need to run Creative Skills training for parents, they’re the ones who really need to understand this stuff”.  The Early Learning and Childcare sector has a much greater understanding of the importance of play-based approaches to learning and the value of open-ended, playful approaches to the expressive arts and it’s so important that this is shared with parents. 

In some settings, although not all, there is a tension between giving children the freedom to create whatever they choose, and the pressure to have, for example, a Christmas craft or Mother’s Day card that ‘looks like something’. Practitioners have fed back that they feel some parents don’t value what has been created unless it fits with a narrowly defined idea of what ‘artwork’ should be.

The approaches to expressive arts we share in the Creative Skills Programme provide genuine opportunities for children to have freedom of expression and find their voices, which can provide magical insights into how they think and feel. 


We need to share that magic with parents and carers. 


If you’re lucky enough to work in a setting where transitions at the start and end of the day give you the opportunity to chat to parents, think about the snippets of information you share during that time. Think about the language you use. 


“Gracie was such a fab wee scientist today, experimenting with the paints to mix the colours she wanted”  


“Connor shared some great ideas in a movement game today, everyone was copying his jellyfish moves. Connor, will you help me lead the game again tomorrow?” 


“I was so impressed with Mia this afternoon, she concentrated for half an hour on the rocket she’s building – she showed so much determination and focus” 


“David made everyone laugh during storytime with his funny voices – you must be so proud of him, he’s such good company”. 


“As we made the Mother’s Day cards we were all talking about what we loved about our Mums – Katie was telling me about cuddles with you and bunny” 


These kinds of insights into a child’s day mean so much to parents and carers, who often face a wall of silence if they ask their child what they’ve been up to.  They show that their children are valued, and listened to. They link the expressive arts and play to the qualities we value as a society: hard-work, leadership, concentration, being sociable.  


I know in Scotland we’re not necessarily comfortable giving and receiving compliments, and there will be adults who will, almost reflexively, dismiss these comments, particularly if they sometimes struggle with their child’s behaviour.  Don’t be put off: these are the families who may need regular, positive affirmation the most.     


The other main ways of sharing these insights is through wall displays and social media. Wall displays can be greatly enhanced by direct quotes from the children about their own work – some settings even use electronic buttons you can press and hear a recording of the child’s own voice!  For social media, many settings have twitter feeds, or private facebook groups where parents are updated with photos from the week as well as other practical information and reminders. The main advantage of social media is that it gives parents the chance to absorb and reflect on the information when they have time, rather than trying to take in information while they have half a mind on the traffic outside, or how to get their child home. 


Highlighting individual children and their work needs to be done with care when using social media accessible by the general public, and most settings will have clear guidelines that ensure children’s faces and names are never used in the same post.  But there are a couple of clear advantages when it comes to taking the time to highlight the successes of individual children rather than always talking about the group generically.  Using direct quotes from the child will really help parents recognise their child’s own voice.  A photo of some abstract transient art on a beach may leave some folk cold, but adding the caption “ ’me did croccle-dial’ Sian, age 2”, helps parents understand that there was a creative process, with thought and care, behind the work.  The other advantage is that parents are carers are more likely to access the social media in the first place if they hear there’s something about their own child on there, leading to more parental engagement. 


Finally, sometimes the best creative champions are the children themselves. When Starcatchers had an artist in residence in a nursery as part of The Playground, children were so excited and inspired they did the unthinkable: they started talking to their parents about their day! Parental engagement increased massively because they could see how engaged their children were and how much the expressive arts experiences meant to them.  You can read more about the whole project here. 


I hope this blog inspires you to make your own small (or large!) steps to be a Creative Champion in your own setting and start engaging parents more – and let us know how you get on!  

Heather Armstrong is Starcatchers’ Creative Skills Manager

As part of Starcatchers’ Creative Skills Programme, participants take part in Creative Champion sessions where they reflect on how the practical training can support their best practice, and explore ideas to help others understand the importance of creativity and the expressive arts in Early Years.  This blog is inspired and informed by the rich and productive conversations from these sessions. 

Engaging Parents can be delivered as a session at your setting through Starcatchers’ Commissioned Training.

Download Starcatchers’ Commissioned Training Booklet