Family Matters: Volunteers help children to prepare for school

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Parents in Sheffield are being helped to get their youngsters ready to cope with starting school by a city charity.

Sheffield is one of just nine regions across the UK to benefit from the school readiness initiative – called Big Hopes Big Future – that will operate through the charity Home-Start’s network of trained volunteers working with families.

The volunteers will encourage parents they work with to read and play with their children and set up morning and bedtime routines as part of a new project funded by the Department for Education.

Sara Gowen, from Home-Start Sheffield, said: “School readiness is about basic practical issues as well as literacy and numeracy. Home-Start Sheffield’s volunteers will be helping parents in Sheffield to prepare their children for school; from arriving on time and being fed, being able to play with other children and recognising their name, to eating and drinking unaided, coping away from their parents and being toilet trained.

“Parents will benefit too, through improved interaction with their own children and developing the confidence to engage with an educational organisation.

“Children reading and having morning and bedtime routines is also good for the whole family.”

Participating families will be involved in the long term planning and development of the project.

Where appropriate, and once their confidence has improved, the parents taking part will also be encouraged to become Home-Start volunteers to share the support they have received with other families.

Sara added: “Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers and this project is about giving mothers and fathers the confidence to build strong foundations for their children’s lifelong education.

“Home-Start’s unique method of delivering support allows them to develop trust and so raise sensitive subjects such as parents’ own reading ability or the financial pressures on the family.

“Our volunteers can then help parents by demonstrating the fun in reading to children or by helping find support in libraries and adult reading lessons.”

Home-Start is developing special additional training modules to allow its volunteers to take on school readiness training to support specific families, or to offer this support more broadly to parents with very young children.