what aspects of children's learning can be outcomes of impactful partnership?
The first aspect of the outcomes of partnership focuses on children's learning. The different learning domains are important signposts to progress. Being alert to them can aid reflection and help capture outcomes that would otherwise be missed. They can also be shared with parents as a way to help them see that progress is being made, and be discussed with parents in order to negotiate priorities.
A crucial part of our findings involved identifying security, opportunity and agency as three crucial elements that underpin children's learning across all the other domains.
All the helpers we studied helped parents understand childhood as a process of learning. Building on this, they helped parents understand what they can do to foster their child’s learning. This and the next section focus primarily on the framing idea of diverse outcomes. This account is consistent with the mind-expanding approach, as these outcomes rely on helpers enabling parents to interpret aspects of parenting differently and then to act in new ways in response to those new meanings. A focus on the conditions of security, opportunity and agency is key for these expansions.
Security, opportunity, and agency are crucial conditions for children’s learning.
We traced outcomes relating to six interconnected domains of child learning, which are shown in the diagram below.
Feeling comfortable, especially at the cusp of developmental level
Learning to be in relationships with carers, siblings, peers
Supporting this development right from the start
Strength, balance, coordination - fine and gross motor
Often about parents 'being with' and labelling experiences
Helping parents notice their children’s learning in these domains can significantly boost their confidence as parents, their positive sense of self, and their readiness to take on challenges.
Helping parents support their children’s learning often involves drawing their attention to small things that have big effects – things they can do day-to-day that might not have immediate consequences, but over time make huge strides possible.
We expect many readers will have extensive knowledge of these aspects of children’s development. In the examples we studied, parents’ goals did not always focus directly on an aspect of their child’s learning, but nonetheless the partnership led to changes that fostered learning in one or more domains.
The six domains and the three conditions that enable learning across those domains can be used:
- As a map to define future directions, identify priorities
- As a way to solicit what matters to parents
- As a way to help make progress visible to parents – signs of learning in these domains may be visible before a goal has been accomplished (and helper expertise is needed to recognise these signs)
- As a way to chart outcomes of the partnership when it ends.
The three conditions of security, opportunity and agency can serve as mediating tools (see key concept box in relation to what matters: parent-child). They redirect parents’ attention towards things they can do to facilitate children’s learning. They can also attune helpers’ attention to possibilities for intervention.
Key concept: children's agency
Agency is about how we can influence the world around us and move in a particular direction (see key concept box in relation to noticing). It may seem strange to think of young children or even newborn babies as having agency. However, the impactful partnerships we studied often worked on an implicit view that infants and children can have agency, and that parents play a crucial role in supporting the development and expression of this agency. Children’s agency can relate to ‘having a say’, for example, when parents follow a child’s lead and have a break during a breastfeed: the child is saying ‘I need a pause’. Things children do to activate caregiving (like crying) can also be seen as forms of agency because they are ways children arrange the world around them in order to have their needs met. Fostering children’s agency is about enabling them to exert an influence on what happens around them, but this doesn’t mean that parents never have to step in and take charge. Children are both agentic and dependent.
Children need to feel secure in order to be able to learn
By security, we mean safety, attachment, belonging, being understood, and having needs met.
The importance of secure attachment is a foundation of many approaches to helping parents with young children. We found that successful partnerships helped parents understand why learning certain things is hard for children, how and when to be there for them, and what support to offer. Circle of Security  ideas of a safe and secure base were often effective, regardless of the child’s age.
Children need to have opportunities they can learn from
Children’s learning is not a passive process. It is linked to the opportunities they are given to try new things, explore, take risks, and relate to others.
Whether learning to breastfeed, link sleep cycles, eat solid foods, share play with others, or manage frustration, children need opportunities to try these new things, even when it is likely they won’t yet quite be able to do so. Impactful partnership involves supporting parents to create these opportunities, without expectation of immediate success.
Understanding children as agentic, and supporting their agency, helps them learn
Agency is about making choices and having a say (see key concept box; see also definition of agency in relation to noticing). It involves thinking of the child as being their own person, and giving them space to be this way.
“Pop him down, shush and leave the room, listen to the cry, he’s going to escalate, like he should, it’s good mental health for a child.” (Helper)
We found examples of helpers supporting parents foster children’s agency even just a few weeks after birth, for example, by giving a newborn a say in breastfeeding (when to change breasts, when to take a rest).
This can be a tricky idea, and feel risky for parents. It doesn’t mean parents have no responsibility: security has to be there to keep children safe, and to help them feel confident as they develop and express their agency.
being confident in the world
Learning to navigate and be part of a daunting but exciting world
From the moment of birth, the world is an exciting but also often daunting place for children. Many of the partnerships we studied involved helping parents understand the world from their child’s point of view, and to help the child develop confidence.
This can include confidence in falling asleep by themselves, separating from parents, exploring new textures in play and with food, climbing and balancing. These small things have the big effect of helping children grow up as confident learners in school, members of social groups and participants in physical activities.
being with carers and others
Children need help learning to make and be in relationships with carers...
... and with others around them too
Learning how to be with others is crucial for children. This starts with the transition from the womb to the world, and new kinds of relationships with parents in the ‘fourth trimester’. Later, relationships with peers and perhaps siblings become important foci of children’s learning.
Playgroups of various kinds create opportunities not just for children to be with others, but for parents to help children develop their social skills.
Children need help learning how to be with others. They also learn by being with others. We observed many cases where helpers pointed out things parents were already doing to help their children’s learning. Helpers often enabled parents to understand how special time with them is to their children.
“Those little stops, when you gaze together and wonder, they are like food for his brain. There’s a big exciting world he’s getting to know, and you’re helping him connect all the stars together.” (Helper)
The previous quote is one of many examples of how helpers explained to parents how the small things they were doing could have a big effect on their child’s learning.
Communicating, speech and language
Partnership can help parents support children's development as communicators
The partnerships we studied always seized opportunities to help children develop speech and language. It was often a surprise for parents when they learned how early this starts to happen, and how many things they could do to facilitate their children’s communication skills.
“They’re very smart. They know mum is going to bang bang, bang on the mat, because she wants to put me to sleep.” (Parent)
This approach often focused on small things like parents offering commentaries during routines like nappy changes, or older toddler’s play. Singing songs together, linking words with actions, and regular reading together are also small things through which big changes happen. However, enabling parents to feel comfortable and confident doing these things often required careful work on the part of helpers. ‘Small’ does not necessarily mean ‘easy’ or ‘obvious’.
Children's physical development is in part a learning process that adults can support
The most impactful helpers never took their eye off children’s physical development. As part of working on other issues, they often folded in ways to help parents foster fine and gross motor skills.
emotional development and regulation
Children need help learning to cope with the emotional demands of being in the world
Emotions are a key part of what makes the world hard to navigate for young children. Parents rarely explicitly sought help relating to their child’s emotional development and regulation. However, the process of working on other issues often led to helpers supporting parents to implement small things that deliver big, positive changes on this front.
The idea of being with children when they are unsettled or having a meltdown was a common example of a small thing with a big effect. Parents’ learned to shift their attention from fixing a problem to helping the child process what is happening and to sending a message there is always someone there for them when needed.
Using the child learning outcomes to enhance your practice
The main worksheet (ready to print on A4 or A3 paper) is designed for practitioners to reflect on their practice. There is also a version that you may find helpful to use in your actual work with families - this contains the main figure and some key prompts.