spark is software designed by early years educators for practical solutions with the concept of ‘getting it right’ for every child at our core. With that same principle to also help ‘get it right’ for all those involved in helping the child flourish; for good parent partnerships.

“[spark@HOME] is so logical in its ordering so following through my child’s sequence of learning and the progress he’s making makes so much sense. You can also track back so you can see really clearly where he’s come from, where he’s at now and where he’s got to go next.” – parent feedback

The relationship with and involvement of families is an integral part of work in an early years setting and as educators ourselves, we believe strongly that we should differentiate our practice to match the needs of parents, rather than provide a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Similarly, good practice does not deliver the curriculum to children in that way either. Furthermore, as recent neuro-scientific research and longitudinal studies show, there is a greater understanding of the importance of optimum brain growth prior to school and how this success impacts on future exam results, adult choices and overall quality of life.

Click here to see more feedback from a parent that has used spark@HOME

Through our own research it is clear children do better where parents have truly engaged; a parallel and cohesive approach in facilitating the child’s learning and development. Our research showed that where some parents used their spark@HOME and others never logged on at all demonstrated a 10-month difference in achievement in two children of the same age. For example, child A and child B started at the setting at about the same time, both came from nuclear families and attended the setting exclusively and for the same amount of sessions per week. Parents of child B logged on regularly and were fully engaged with it and that child had the most significant improvements in Understanding the World and Communication and Language, over child B, as well as being ahead in all other developmental areas.

It was this that finally really pushed us to act and gain feedback from our customers on the challenges that needed to be overcome: we needed to encourage parents to log on and by talking to parents and other settings, time-starvation, parents fear of failing or not meeting the set expectations were some of our findings. With all this in mind, over the last 18 months, spark set about to create something truly innovative and rather than lovely photos illustrating the child has been happy and the setting has been doing something today, we have developed something better.

“I have used the comments feature and I think having further communication with the people looking after him all of the time is really important . . . being able to record things that have been noticeably significant for him has been really beneficial for me and I know that that’s fed into what he does at nursery. That’s really encouraging knowing there are links between what he does at home and what he does at daytime.” – parent feedback

To that aim, additions have been made to complement and extend the level of engagement by providing choices for settings to embrace, to match parents’ needs. spark now provides a staged approach along with ways to monitor the degree of engagement. spark’s aim was and is to support parents’ ongoing interest and scaffold them to become more and more involved with their child’s learning until they are participating equally with the setting and vice versa.

In addition, to the original reports that embrace a ‘low level’ of input by the parent or at the other end of the spectrum spark@HOME, we have introduced sparkLINK and Learning Stories within our standard packages (sparkESSENTIAL and sparkPRO) to further culture this connection. The process of introducing new features has instigated improvements to the original features too, particularly when using spark@HOME (this is software that is owned by the parent and talks with the other standard packages sharing information both ways).

Everything that happens in a child’s day does not have to be relayed at busy pick up times, nor does everything happening in a child’s home life have to be told to (and remembered by) one adult. spark enables such information to flow and be shared with the key-person, team and seniors.

“This software has contributed in boosting parents’ confidence in our practice. They are now, more assured that every step of their child’s development is captured; knowing that any gap in development would be identified and early intervention proffered.” – A foundation school in Nigeria

At its most basic level, spark creates Learning Journey Profiles (plus possibly supplemented by learning journeys, charts and graphs) that can be shared with families either via email or through printouts: these are quick, need minor quality checks by seniors and include ideas to undertake at home with offers on how to do this, generated by spark and chosen by the Key Person/Educator. Parents and/or carers are invited to feedback on the software on their child’s progress. Likewise, with the statutory 2-3 year Progress Check where again all can be involved.

sparkLINK is the next step up and is an integral part of sparkESSENTIAL and sparkPRO. This is accessed online by secure passwords. The innovation in this is that it is a way to encourage involvement in cohesive learning between setting and home without overwhelming families or giving direct instruction. There are ideas in the kind of useful information that could be given to guide parents’ in what could be pertinent, this, in turn, enhances planning in the setting around schemas, interests and home scenarios. Parents/Carers also receive some stage-appropriate suggestions in what they might like to help their child with at home. What’s most important is that parents can begin to identify what they have achieved with their child and gain extra satisfaction from that.

“It is very easy to use because there are some prompts at the side, which gave me ideas of the things that I could say and I felt happy that I was able to talk about my son and the staff know some of the things that he likes.” – parent feedback

Part of the process is to enhance the content of the conversation between ‘formal educator’ and ‘primary educator’ and the shared learning. We have designed a way to keep tabs on parents’ usage, so educators are able to influence and support to ensure features across sparkLINK and spark@HOME don’t become a ‘lip service partnership’ where the opportunity is given but there is no real encouragement or benefit for the child. By measuring engagement, we enable educators to meet needs accordingly.

Every parent enjoys photos but we wanted these to be more meaningful than a snapshot of a child with an activity. sparkLINK has the option of adding Learning Stories which have been designed to showcase the child learning a skill through a sequence of photographs. These can be used to show that a child is happy when the child is settling in or moving into a new age-group. Parents receive these in real-time but need to click past the other features (ideas for progress and communication jotter) first. These ‘stories’ also encourage parents to look at sparkLINK and motivates engagement in the other information given.

In summary, both sparkPRO and sparkESSENTIAL have a multi-faceted and differentiated approach to improving the involvement of families in a child’s learning in an early years setting.

spark has bridged a gap in the nursery industry, where practitioners, practice, child development and parents can share information about a child’s learning. spark has achieved this from a nursery development perspective; and by enabling the setting to track their own progress, the child’s learning is continually supported.” – A pre-school in Kent