Family Engagement Month – Why Engaging Parents and Carers in creativity needs to be our top priority

Each month this blog is going to be looking at a different theme that highlights how creativity can improve the lives of young children across Scotland. Never ones to shy away from a challenge, February is Starcatchers’ Family Engagement Month.

The importance of engaging young children AND their adults in Arts and Creativity is at the heart of Starcatchers’ work – from performances and creative experiences designed for children and adults to enjoy together, to engagement projects like Starcatchers’ Expecting Something project which has seen some amazing results using creative approaches with young mums and their babies to improve confidence and strengthen relationships. This month Starcatchers’s artists are working with 24 settings across the country to run Creative Play sessions with the aim of inspiring parents and carers to use more arts and creative play with their wee ones.

Engaging parents is also a priority for Education Scotland – the Scottish Schools (parental involvement) Act 2006 recognises the vital role parents have in supporting their children’s learning – you can read more about the benefits here

Creativity and Attachment

 If we want to look at how working with parents and carers can improve the lives of young children, we need to look at attachment.

The Sutton Trust estimates that up to 40% of children lack secure bonds with their primary caregiver, which can have profoundly negative effects on the behaviour and ultimately the life chances of those children.  The “Baby Bonds” report found parenting style and home environment contributed to half the gap in cognitive development that can be found between the least and most advantaged children.

The Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) research project shows this gap to equate to 18 month gap in vocabulary between the least and most advantaged children by age 5, with a 13 month gap in problem solving.

Amongst children whose parents had lower levels of education, those who had strong early attachment with their mother, had better early language development and more regularly experienced parent-child activities like reading, singing and playing games were more likely to show a greater improvement in their cognitive ability in the pre-school period than those children who did not have these experiences. Growing Up in Scotland

It’s clear that shared creative activity is an excellent way to support healthy attachment – touch, eye contact, laughter and fun all help cement those important bonds. If we want a nation of happier, healthier children, we need to have early learning and childcare AND home environments rich in arts and creativity.

Who Values Arts and Creativity?

During Starcatchers’ Creative Skills Programme, early years practitioners from a variety of backgrounds and settings are asked to identify their barriers to being more creative in their practice. In almost every session, parents are mentioned as one of the biggest obstacles. Some parents complain about clothes getting messy. Some parents only care about numeracy and literacy. Some parents just don’t “get it”. Some parents throw artwork in the bin before they even leave the building.

It’s frustrating and heartbreaking.

Blame isn’t going to improve the situation though. No parent chooses to fail to form secure attachments with their child, nor do they deliberately stop their child taking part in rich, rewarding experiences. In those same conversations with practitioners attending training, colleagues are also mentioned as barriers to being more creative. If trained professionals struggle to value (or prioritise) creativity amongst the long list of daily tasks, numeracy and literacy targets, and endless paperwork, can we reasonably expect parents to “get it”?

According to the Ribena Plus Play Report (2011) while only 6% of parents most often turn to imaginative and role-play to engage their child, 90% of parents think it’s important for their children to play imaginative, make-believe or role-play games. In that same report nearly half of parents say they want help and ideas on how to play with their child. This shows that maybe more parents get it than we realise – but it’s still not happening.

So how do we get parents (and everyone else) onboard?

 We need to start from a place of empathy.

 From day one parents (and practitioners) are bombarded with messages about feeding, sleeping, exercise, healthy eating, teeth cleaning, speech, literacy, and so on. The feeling of constantly failing to meet expectations, or even failing to take in all that information, can be overwhelming. We don’t just need people to value arts and creativity, they need to feel good about it instead of feeling guilty.

Here are some things that could help:

  1. Share Information Simply

As part of the Arts from the Start campaign, we’ve created posters to get some key messages across quickly and simply – download them, print them off and display them somewhere they can be seen during those super-busy hellos and goodbyes.

Arts support science

Download the posters below:

Art supports confidence

Art supports science

Music supports maths

Movement supports writing

Imagination supports attainment

Attachment supports attainment

  1. Take Our Creative Challenge: Talk About Creativity

Think about how you talk to parents about arts and creativity. You may share information about bottles, naps and snacks, but do you ever let parents know “Maisie has a great time pretending to be a dog today” at pick ups? If you already do this, how well does it work? Do you have any great tips to share?

Could it be as simple as popping some Arts from the Start flyers in bags to send home (get in touch if you would like some flyers, or a wee note saying “Shaun is loving singing Twinkle Twinkle this week”?

  1. Find examples of imagination making parenting easier, and more fun – and share them with us!

In June we’re going to be running our “A Little Imagination: Tales of Parenting” competition, where we’ll be asking parents and carers to share their stories about ways to engage children’s imaginations in ways that makes caring for young children easier and more fun – you can get in touch with yours now!

You can read more about attachment on the website of the wonderful Suzanne Zeedyk, long time supporter of Starcatchers.

We’ll be posting about the Creative Play days throughout the month and will be announcing dates for the Arts from the Start Inspiration Days very soon.  If you haven’t registered your interest yet, you can do so below:

Let us know how you’re getting on.  You can comment directly here on the blog, or get in touch via email or engage with us online on Facebook or Twitter.



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