The Acorn Action Research group were very pleased to present our first paper last week, at the British Education Research Association (BECERA)’s conference in Birmingham.  The theme of the conference was Home Learning Cultures, and we felt confident that our practice of doing home visits, as part of the settling-in process for children starting nursery, would be a good example of something that enhances our support of home learning cultures. The research that we had already started was a team effort by the Action Research team, and consisted mainly of questionnaires being sent out to parents and practitioners.  Aimee Pawlak, the nursery manager at New Bradwell, volunteered to do the literature review, and she and I put together a draft paper, pulling together the main findings from the questionnaires, and reviewing the implications of these for the further development of our practice.

When our proposal was accepted, Aimee was keen to delegate the job of presenting it to me, and four of us went to the conference, which proved to be a really interesting and insightful experience.  The only frustration of the day was that our paper was in a parallel session to the papers on Learning Outdoors, which would have been a natural choice for us too.  We then attended different sessions for the rest of the day, so that we covered as much ground as we could – plus of course there were two key note speakers, which are always a conference highlight.  We were particularly captivated by Margy Whalley’s talk in the late afternoon – a tricky slot, when everyone is keen to get home after a tiring day, but she had absolutely everyone captivated by her talk on parent partnership working at Pen Green.

Our paper was one of the first to be presented, and I followed the format of the main paper – which if you’re interested in reading, we’d be happy to share. Firstly, I explained the background of Acorn, our social impact model, and how we came to start doing home visits at Acorn (which were begun by Natasha Pateman, when she was the manager at Burton Latimer, and after she’d done her Foundation Degree at Pen Green). It took us a while to get them established in all of the nurseries, as there are lots of logistical difficulties to overcome, not least being able to free up the manager and key person for an hour or two to leave the nursery and visit a family at their home. Once the nursery teams had started trialling them, however, the enthusiasm for them quickly grew, as the benefits to the children, parents and practitioners became obvious.  We also realised that it was a perfect example of relational pedagogy and our ethic of care, which we have been increasingly embedding across all aspects of the organisation.  I described the history and key texts in the ethic of care literature, and also outlined the main points of relational pedagogy, which underpins our personalised approach to working with families.

After explaining our research methods and the case study research design, I then outlined the findings in previous research on home visits, most of which focussed on home visits in a health or early intervention context.  If there was research on nurseries conducting home visits, most of it was in connection with starting school nurseries, and we realised that there was very little published research on home visits in day nurseries in the private and voluntary sector. The literature on transitions, key persons and parent partnership all confirmed that home visits are considered to be beneficial, and 93% of both parents and practitioners that responded to our questionnaires agreed.  Many parents felt that the visits gave them a more personalised experience, and enabled them to be more relaxed about the settling-in visits, and both parents and practitioners commented on the benefits of practitioners having an insight into a child’s natural personality and interests when they are in their home environment.  Accepting the key person, and usually the manager, into the home gave a clear message to children that they are trusted by the parents, and this was noted in several responses. 


I also mentioned the use of transitional objects, as we discovered some very creative and thoughtful practices during our research.  Many nurseries made photo books for children to keep, with pictures of the nursery and key staff, and others lent objects that could then be returned to nursery on a settling-in visit.  Several parents commented on the efforts practitioners had made to accommodate their child’s interests when visiting the nursery – learning from the home visit to make the transition to nursery a smoother and happier process.  One of the biggest challenges was to capture the child’s voice in our research.  In the end we relied mainly on parents and practitioners telling us about things children had said afterwards, and sometimes quite some time afterwards (eg “when are you coming to my house again?”)

We made it clear that it’s very much a piece of action research that is still in progress – we have realised that there are questions we didn’t ask, and that there are inconsistencies in the practice of conducting home visits that we’d like to explore further.  Being able to share our journey so far was in some ways a starting point for us.  We didn’t have as much discussion about the paper as we’d have liked, but it was a very useful experience, and hopefully not the last time that we present a paper there (and we’ve already nominated Becky to present the next one!)