There’s an old proverb that says: “It takes a village to raise a child”, meaning that the whole community has a part to play in the growth and development of the children and young people within that community.
Children may be born to specific parents, but they also spend a significant part of their life outside their home environment interacting with others. These can be pre-school staff, teachers, police, local shop keepers and business owners, park wardens or local group leaders such as Scouts and Guides, church leaders or sports club coaches.
One of the 4 specific areas of learning in the EYFS, Understanding The World, is sub-dived into 3 areas. Within that, there is an area called “People and Communities” which encourages children to learn about the community they come from, and the sub-section on “The World” is also designed to help children learn about the different environments and ways of living that exist on the wider planet.
Benefits of community involvement in early childhood
Community involvement means not only making sure that the local community know your setting exists, but that there is two-way flow of information, both into the community and back from the community into your setting. There are many benefits to this. It is beneficial in all aspects of life, not just in early years, but in early years, the opportunity is there to ease the child’s transition into community life later on.
Some of the many benefits of community involvement are:
- Children learn to accept and tolerate their local community
- They can grow emotionally, socially and intellectually through these relationships
- It brings a sense of identity and belonging, important for developing self-awareness and self-esteem
- Communities can help support children through difficult times
- Children can become future custodians of their local communities
How to improve community engagement
There are perhaps 4 areas we can think of when we think about community in the context of an early years setting and we cover these individually.
The pre-school setting community
Start by making sure that your early years setting has a good sense of what community means and make the time to discuss ideas as a whole community to give people ownership of, and interest in, what goes on. Make sure your community is a safe and welcoming place for people of all genders, creeds, beliefs and ethnicities and celebrate the diversity in your setting through awareness days, cultural exchanges and social stories.
Other ways to create a cohesive community are:
- Enjoy playtime and mealtimes together, making time for fun and conversation
- Engage in team activities to build bonds and strong relationships
- Try some cross-room activities or things that can be enjoyed by children of different ages working together
- Plan social events so that everyone can get involved
- Share best-practice and communicate well
Parents/carers and extended family community
Engaging with this group is crucial. They are responsible for the child’s home environment, and so the first thing to do is to ensure that you are communicating well with all the parents/carers about all aspects of the child’s day and development. This could mean ‘meeting and greeting’ at morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up, having a brief discussion about the child’s progress or any causes for concern. There are commercially available tools to help stay in touch with parents/carers such as the Parenta Footsteps software.
However, think too about the letters, information and notifications you send out, as well as your website and social media channels. Are they accessible to all, and in different languages or formats?
You may want to:
- Invite parents/carers and families to open days and events
- Encourage a parents/carers support group
- Encourage friends and families to volunteer, maybe going on trips or helping with reading or circle time. Remember to follow the correct safeguarding checks and training for volunteers
- Invite them in to talk about their culture, job or other aspect about themselves that can enhance a sense of belonging
- Offer communications in different formats to reach a wider base
- Encourage things like having toys that are sent home to different children’s houses at weekends/holidays to record and share the different experiences in each home
- Include families in learning opportunities at home by offering information on advice about how families can extend their child’s learning at home or in their community
The wider local community
Engaging with the wider local community can involve:
- Healthcare providers such as GPs, nurses, health visitors, school nurses
- Law enforcement and police
- Local fire services
- Other localised rescue services e.g. RNLI, Mountain Rescue
- Religious institutions
- Local businesses and charities
- Local government
- Local area websites and social media sites
- Local news and media organisations
- Schools and colleges
- Care homes for the elderly
- Local groups such as WIs, Men’s Sheds, Rotary, Guilds, LGBTQ+ groups
- Community action organisations such as those set up to help people with disabilities
- Gyms and swimming pools
- Playgrounds and leisure facilities
- Art galleries, theatres and concert halls
- Other early years settings
- Young people’s organisations such as Rainbows, Beavers, Scouts and Guides
- Local museums and historic buildings
- The natural world – parks, lakes, beaches, forests and places of special scientific interest or areas of outstanding natural beauty
The list is almost endless and will vary around the country, however, engaging with just a few of these will help increase your community involvement.
Think about ways to work together for the benefit of the children and the whole community. A few ideas could be:
- Invite members of the rescue services to talk about their community role
- Organise awareness days/events based around local charities
- Get involved in local activities run by the council or local parks to encourage children into community spaces
- Contact other early years settings to set up an ideas exchange or joint projects
- Offer your facilities to local groups
- Invite local businesses in to give talks to your children/families about what they do
- Join in with street parties and events
- Celebrate different religious festivals in your setting and invite local religious leaders to explain what they do
- Visit local care homes for an intergenerational exchange
- Collect donations to deliver to local hospitals, hospices or refuges
- Invite the press in for your special days or send out regular press releases
The national and international community
Although this article is about embedding strong links with your local community, you could also think wider afield at times and think about the national and international communities you belong to as well.
Early Years Alliance
Early Years Matters
Understanding the World: People and communities