Every year the Spring and Summer terms in Reception classes are incredibly exciting and busy ones for Early Years teams up and down the country. We seem to find there is always a pressing need to start multi-tasking in earnest as we attempt to balance the learning spurt of our current children with the welcome and induction of new families to our school community. This year, busy for us – and I’m sure many others – is an understatement! Teams up and down the country are rethinking how to best engage with families and children in a brand new way as we attempt to remotely support both wellbeing and learning. And then the challenge of what remote or virtual induction for the first time has dawned as a pressing need as this possibility has become a reality.

At Alver Valley Schools we were clear from the start that we wanted to ensure children, parents and carers were given the opportunity to feel welcomed, set at ease and supported as they transitioned either from our own school nursery (which generally accounts for about 40% of our new entrants) or from the wide range of other local settings. Within a week of the start of lockdown, our planning and preparation began and we wanted to share our journey and thought processes here in the hope that other settings might find some of the ideas interesting and useful.

At our first planning meeting we thought through all the elements that usually make up our successful transition package, which would usually include a meeting for parents, 8 different opportunities for children to visit the school setting (some with parents, preschools or as part of our well-established songs and rhymes project or popular Teddy Bears picnic). We thought through the purpose and impact of each of these to help us consider how we could aim to give children and families the best induction in a virtual world.

We identified the following aspirations based on this thinking:

  • We wanted new families to feel a warm welcome to Alver Valley Schools;
  • We wanted to give families an opportunity to visualise the school setting and get a glimpse into life at Alver Valley Schools and the Reception Year;
  • We wanted to give families the opportunity to share any worries, concerns, and excitement, and ask questions as they would in a face-to-face induction;
  • We wanted families to start to become familiar with and to get to know staff, and for staff to begin to build relationships with families;
  • We wanted some level of two-way communication, not just school giving information;
  • We wanted to help children to start to feel familiar with the Reception environment;
  • Most of all, we wanted families and children to feel a sense of belonging to the Alver Valley Schools community.

First Steps Communication Channels

One of our first steps was to establish a webpage specially for New Entrants to schools.

This allowed us to put all of the information, photos of the environment, videos, booklets, online sessions, online meetings, and much more in one central place that would be easy to find for our new parents.

We also decided to set up a specific Early Years email account so that parents could communicate directly with the team. For us this was essential as not only could we quickly reassure and address any concerns but we could also use this as a channel for parents to share their children’s engagement with our Alver Valley Adventurers sessions (see below).

Online Induction Meeting for Parents

We very quickly decided that we wanted to film an induction meeting so that parents did not miss out on this essential information session. As we started to plan and script this, working out how to achieve this with many staff working remotely, we soon realised that actually this approach had many real benefits as we moved to an online virtual session. Although there were negatives – such as not having the opportunity to meet families in person and answer any questions in a face-to-face meeting – there were many positives: using video and a range of areas in the school we could do a much better job of presenting the school environment, and we could cut out waffle and ensure that the messages had real clarity and were concise. In addition, a real benefit was that parents could watch and re-watch if they wish, when they chose to do so – no more worrying about child-care or running date/rescheduling other commitments as the meeting is on our school website and YouTube channel.

To date, we have had over 2,400 views of this induction video, indicating that the audience is not just new parents but other professionals and interested parties wanting a glimpse inside our school. Parents’ feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with many stating the video reduced anxieties and answered many questions.

Virtual Induction Sessions for Children

During the filming of the parents’ meeting video we quickly realised the power of this approach as we could actually narrate a learning journey whilst sharing the school environment, routines and introducing adults, and so we decided to rewrite and film our songs and rhymes transition project for children to maximise those opportunities. We named our new sessions ‘Alver Valley Adventurers’, again wanting to connect families with the school and increase that sense of belonging. Each session has a theme, such as ‘Introduction and Belonging’, ‘Numbers’, ‘Listening Carefully and Exploring Sounds’, ‘Rhyme and Tuning into Sounds’, and ‘Dough Disco’. As we would in school we start each session with a hook into the learning (see our hooks into books spotlight article). We then take children on a learning journey through a session filled with creative activities, stories, dancing, songs and rhymes whilst exploring the areas of the setting and meeting adults along the way. We wanted children to feel part of the session and the theme of belonging is key for us, and so we made packs with all of the resources included that children would need to take part, so week by week as sessions are published they can be fully involved. We also encourage families to send us photos of their learning or what they have made with or without photos of children, and with their permission we share wider via our school website and social media feeds so that the other children in the cohort can also see and begin to feel connected. Find the sessions as they are released on our webpage or view session 1session 2, session 3 ,  session 4 and  session 5.

The Journey so far

It really is ‘the journey so far’ as we are only part way through this process. The five Alver Valley Adventures sessions are, as they say, all ‘in the can’ and now ready to go live with a session uploaded weekly starting the first Thursday in June. As a team we have learnt so much and have become even clearer in the articulation of the vision and approach of early years at Alver Valley Schools. We have learnt much about each other’s strengths and have felt a huge sense of pride in what we have achieved so far in attempting to meet the needs of our new families, whilst always still prioritising our current learners. We have become ever more creative as we have been pushed to rethink the what, why and how of induction. We have also learnt scripting, directing, filming and post-production – to name a few skills – and have only broken one phone screen along the way! Next stop Virtual Teddy Bears Picnic.

To find out more about how we have approached the technical side watch our film ‘How To’ Video below.

Ali Lockwood

Head of Schools Alver Valley Schools

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If you are interested in finding out more about Alver Valley Schools go to www.alvervalleyschools.co.uk

To read more about the Early Years approach at Alver Valley Schools check out our articles on the school website in Spotlight on Alver Valley titled “Messy Art day”,  “Hooks into Books”and Hooks into Books: Year R Meet the Gingerbread Man!