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Starting Out – Together It’s Child’s Play

date May 6, 2016

At the heart of any setting, Children’s Centre or school there should be an ethos that has great respect for parents and carers, recognising that they are their child’s first and most important educator.   Families should not feel ‘done to’, but instead should be empowered with knowledge and resources that help them in this essential role.  As an Early Years Advisory Teacher within the Borough of Poole, Jeanette Yorke was asked in 2011 to design a programme to fulfil this.  The result was ‘Starting Out – Together…It’s Child’s Play.

Starting Out is a multi-award winning, flexible resource that helps parents develop opportunities to engage with their children within the home learning environment.  Aimed at families with children from 0-5 years old, there are 4 components spanning the Foundation Stage.  This allows the programme to be delivered in a way that is suitable for families, whether as a targeted service in Children’s Centres (via Group Sessions or Home Visits) or as a universal programme in Early Years settings and reception year of school. 

There is a comprehensive range of resources for parents, as well as training and resources to support practitioners.  Starting Out is used within the Borough of Poole, in all of its Children’s Centres and many of its Early Years settings and infant schools. The programme has since been adopted by settings, schools and Children’s Centres outside of the Borough as a useful resource for encouraging home learning and good parent partnerships.

Central to Starting Out are fun, age appropriate Activity Sacks, focussed on the EYFS prime areas, which parents borrow and use at home with their children (15 sacks for 0-1 year olds, 15 for 1-2 year olds, 15 for 2-4 year olds and 15 for reception year children). Parents accessing Starting Out through an Early Years setting or school can also attend workshops on subjects including brain development, schemas, wellbeing, sensory play, heuristic play, behaviour and routines. This combined approach works well to give parents the `why’, i.e. why it is important that they play an active part in their child’s development and the `how’, in the form of low cost/no cost activities to do with their child.

Those accessing the programme via a Children’s Centre can attend Group Sessions and, dependent on their level of need, may have Home Visits from a Family Outreach Worker.  Through this strong and equal partnership, parents are able to develop a positive and informed approach to their home learning environment and developmental activities that can be done outside of the home with their child.

The key features of Starting Out are:

  • Low cost/no cost activities that can easily be replicated within the home
  • Promotion of quality time between parent and child
  • Increased parental understanding of child development and the essential role they play
  • Opportunities for practitioners to model activities to parents
  • Enhanced partnership with parents in schools, early years settings and Children’s Centres

An Ofsted Inspection report of Poole Children’s Centres stated:

The local authority has recently developed its own programme to help children be ready to start school. This has worked very well and the positive results are already beginning to be seen’ and, ‘Significant improvements are already being seen in children’s learning at the end of reception year and as a result, the gap between the most disadvantaged children and the rest is starting to close’.

Other evaluations show that after accessing the Starting Out programme:

  • 78% of surveyed parents reported feeling more confident.
  • 75% said that Starting Out activity sacks had helped them spend more time with their child
  • 49% said borrowing the Activity Sacks had given them ideas for their own activities
  • Just under half of surveyed parents said they were spending more time on numbers, sharing stories and playing outdoors.

Children with insects - Borough of PooleParent and child - Borough of Poole
For more information on the Starting Out programme, please visit or to enquire about buying Starting Out resources and training please contact Karen Todd,


About our Guest Blogger

Jeanette Yorke is a qualified primary school teacher and trained Ofsted inspector who holds Early Years Professional Status.  She currently works as Child Development and School Readiness Lead for The Borough of Poole.

Jeanette lives in Dorset with her husband and two sons and is passionate about the importance of parent partnerships and the home learning environment, largely driven by her own experience as a mother.[/promo]Jeanette Yorke