EYB Magazine article 21st Century Tots

21st CENTURY TOTS

From technology for toddlers to making your mark in the virtual world join us as we explore hardware, software, online profiles, e-learning, social media and more.

The Early Year’s sector is a fun filled place, an environment where care and education go hand in hand, where children have the opportunity to express themselves, experience new things and to grow and develop as unique individuals. It’s a sector that embraces change, continually reflecting and reviewing practice, a sector committed to progression and development.

Why then has it been slow to embrace technology, does technology have a place in the Early Year’s world?

At Bertram we believe the answer to this question is a resounding YES! Well placed and appropriately used technology can improve outcomes for children and families…and here’s how.

Hardware…just what do you need?

What counts as technology in the early years? The options are endless and range in price from just a few pounds to more significant and long term investment levels. Start simply with programmable toys, torches, scales, pedometers, voice recorders, sound systems. The list at this end of the scale is long and is I’m sure one most people are familiar with but what about the bigger investments like smart board technology, laptops, desk top computers and tablets?

We are midway through a roll out programme of smart board technology, linked to computers in our pre-school rooms, the smart boards are well used, accessible and a great attraction to new customers viewing our settings. Staff and children use the smart boards as an integral part of their day, a part of the holistic learning experience. Used with carefully selected software they open up new avenues for exploration, challenge and learning.

We’ve also started to introduce android tablets to our playrooms, from the baby room right through to pre-school and use these to support early learning across all areas of the curriculum.

EYB Magazine article 21st Century Tots

Hardware in place and satisfied that it was raising outcomes for the children in our care we looked to see just how many other areas of our business it could positively impact…could it improve parent involvement? Increase enquiry levels? Raise brand awareness? Strengthen our position in the community? Support our charitable activities? Support our environmental programmes? Increase staff engagement and improve accessibility to continuing professional development? A tall order but, “oh happy day”, one that has been met in all of these areas and that continues to reveal further bonuses and opportunities.

On-line profiles of learning, Learning Journals, mean an end to paper based development files, an end to tired folders and an end to storage problems. Our Learning Journal roll out has so far reached twelve of our thirty four nurseries and is proving to be a huge asset loved by children, parents and staff. Its increasing parent engagement by giving parents access to their child’s profile at a time that suits them, parents are adding comments, making observations and sharing screen time with their children as they view the profile together from home.

Children love the profiles, choosing comments and pictures to add, understanding their learning and being empowered to define next steps. Staff are given that most precious of commodities…time.  Time that is freed up from the writing of paper based observations, filing, tidying and organising. Learning Journals are web based, need no specific software and are secure to access. In the words of one of our busy working mums, Learning Journals are a “Fantastic way of allowing parents to view their child’s progress, great for busy working parents to be able to log on at their own leisure”. We aim to have Learning Journals at all thirty four sites by 2014.

Learning is of course a lifelong process and this led us to thinking “what about staff learning?” which in turn led us to e-portfolios…now under creation for each and every one of our staff to record and participate in continuing professional development. E-portfolios have reduced the cost of delivering training and enhanced the quality and accessibility…a win, win situation and one that makes our staff feel valued and inspired to learn.

We also have a training division, BNG Training, delivering apprenticeships and higher qualifications through e-learning both in house and for other operators. Our team at BNG Training have experienced a dramatic growth in service levels whilst retaining exceptional progression and achievement rates…we believe that e-portfolios have supported and facilitated this growth.

EYB Magazine article 21st Century Tots

Next step…communications, marketing, brand awareness…if there is an area that technology and the virtual world lends itself to then this has to be it. We already have websites and find these are a fabulous resource but wanted to extend our online presence. We reviewed the options, spoke with staff and parents and decided to take the plunge into the world of social media. We now have 16 twitter accounts linked to individual nurseries with a total of 17,954 followers; we have 17 Facebook pages with 1,965 likes.

Social media has even impacted on regulatory outcomes with a recent inspection in Scotland being graded as excellent, the highest achievable grade for service user and carer participation. The Care Inspectorate officer said “The nursery made good use of social media as a way of encouraging parents to make comments and suggestions. This included a website and a very well used Facebook page. During the inspection the manager contacted parents via Facebook…many parents took this opportunity to send comments to the inspector.”

We blog, host online parent forums and are currently developing video marketing for our websites and apps for training. We receive great parent feedback, get customer enquiries, share best practice with sector colleagues and ultimately improve our services for children, parents and staff. We are continually reviewing our use of technology, software, web services and our online presence and urge anyone thinking of dipping their toe in the water to do as we did and take the plunge. The return on investment is multi-faceted, measurable and ever increasing.

In the words of poet, James W Foley,

“Drop a pebble in the water, just a splash, and it is gone; but there’s half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on, spreading, spreading from the centre, flowing on out to the sea and there is no way of telling where the end is going to be.”