Hub staff member Katherine Richards-Bryant shares her reflections on undertaking home visits with families in Feltham, from her time as an Early Years teacher
As a trainee teacher, specialising in the Early Years, I quickly became used to the idea of a ‘home visit’. Before teaching a new class, my TA and I would dutifully zip round to all 30 children’s homes in the first week of September. To fit all 30 visits in two days, we were only able to stay for about 10 minutes (13 minutes if provided with a biscuit or two) before running to the next family, Google Maps in hand!
However, despite the rushed feel of each visit, we knew the process was invaluable. Children were able to meet us (often for the first time), maybe show us their favourite toy or just curiously look at us behind their family member’s legs. Parents often told us that the child had been ‘so excited’ to finally meet us, after weeks and weeks of family preparation for the child’s first step into ‘big school’ with ‘lovely Miss Bryant’! To be honest, this visit was the perfect chance for the child to see what all the fuss was really about!
Despite it being potentially a little stressful to welcome their child’s new teacher in to their home, we knew these home visits were just as important for parents as well. It is perfectly natural for parents to feel nervous about their child starting school and home visits provide a small outlet for that. Firstly, they can put ‘a face to a name’ and secondly they are able to ask all of the questions they might have. For example: ‘Where do we line up with our child in the morning?’, ‘My child still has a few accidents, will that be ok?’ and ‘Do I need to buy the PE kit yet?’. In the same vein, I was able to ask the parents questions about their child, all of which helped me to prepare best for the child’s transition into school. These conversations not only answered questions and eased anxieties, but also helped form a human connection between myself and the parent.
It is clear how valuable even a 10 minute home visit can be, so when I moved to Reach I was so pleased to find that home visits were being used to an even greater capacity. Staff throughout the school are encouraged to not only visit homes at the beginning of the academic year, but also whenever they or the parent thinks it would be beneficial. Best of all, there is no time limit to the visit! I have led home visits for children who are finding bedtime routines a little tricky, children who aren’t enjoying the food at lunchtime and for children who are struggling with reading. Sometimes, I have just organised a visit because I thought it would be nice to spend a bit more time with the child and their family.
These visits enabled myself, the parent and the child to have the kind of conversation that a school classroom environment may not be conducive to. Often the child, and also at times their parent, felt more comfortable discussing concerns or topics within the comfort of their own home. For many people, the school environment feels formal and uncomfortable - squeezing onto chairs for 4 year olds does not help with this! Instead, sitting in a family’s home (on adult-sized furniture!) reduces the ‘teacher hierarchy’ that many parents feel. During the home visit we have been able to ‘problem solve’ together, work out what is currently going well and then make a plan for the child based on their next steps. That might be a reward chart for brushing their teeth at night or a fun and easy phonics game the family can play together during the weekend. The teacher’s knowledge of the education system and the parent’s invaluable understanding of their child makes for a winning combination! However, to be honest, I often think that for many children, just seeing their teacher and their parents talking about them in their own home is powerful enough! They to get to see that we are all on the same team, that we all want to best for them and that we will all work together to achieve that goal.
Home visits are an indispensable tool for teachers and parents alike. For school leaders, I would recommend encouraging your staff to organise them responsively throughout the year. Support them to focus the home visit on a specific topic which can be resolved as much as possible during that time. My advice for teachers is to relax! It can be a little strange at first but use the visit as an opportunity to get to know the family on a more human level. Little things like asking whether you should take your shoes off, demonstrates respect and can go a long way. Finally parents, please feel empowered to request a home visit and to say what time or date suits you. It is perfectly fine to ask for a slightly later time, once you are both back from work or to say that Tuesdays aren’t a good idea because the children go to clubs. The home visit will only work best when you feel comfortable and are able to give your full attention to the conversation. Lastly, if you are able to offer a biscuit or two with a cup of tea I am sure it would be greatly appreciated!