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Early years settings and social media

Facebook, probably the most popular social networking site, has 845 million users worldwide, available in over 70 languages. The network tends to be for social chat and connecting with friends. However, more and more companies are beginning to see its benefits and are producing company Facebook sites.

For a nursery or setting, Facebook has some great benefits:

  • Raising the profile of the setting. The Facebook site can reflect the ethos and character of the setting, especially if it contains links to like-minded websites e.g. Forest Schools, Montessori.
  • Marketing. A Facebook page is free and easy to set up and update, unlike some commercial websites.
  • Reminders and announcements. It can be a lovely way of celebrating the achievements of staff, such as a new baby or a degree graduation, or posting reminders to parents, such as dressing up for World Book Day.
  • Putting up photos. Photographs of displays or activities can be shared with all the Facebook users and this can be almost instantaneous as things happen. This is a great way to show how the practitioners value the children’s work and for parents to keep up to date with their child’s achievements.
  • Convenience. Parents can ‘Like’ the nursery Facebook page, so any updates or information from the nursery will appear on their own Facebook ‘wall’ or ‘timeline’. This means that parents can keep up to date whilst browsing their own page. This is usually a time when parents are relaxed and are more likely to read notices – rather than at pick up time, when they are tired and there may be a rush to get home.
  • Permanence. The notices will stay on the Facebook page, and wont end up scrunched up at the bottom of a bag, or lost altogether.
  • Team involvement. Different team members can update the Facebook page. For example, each room manager can update parents about their individual rooms, or team members from different settings in the same chain can update parents about their particular setting.
  • Two-way conversations. Parents can comment and ‘like’ Facebook posts, which can give the setting a good idea of the type of things that parents enjoy seeing, in real time, without having to send out questionnaires or catching parents to talk to them.
  • ‘Friend’-ing. Having a setting website means that practitioners and parents can be Facebook ‘friends’ in an open, professional manner.

However, there can also be problems associated with Facebook. It is possible for inappropriate comments to be posted by parents or staff, so there must be clear rules, which someone at the setting needs to regulate. This can take time from a member of staff’s day, but it is essential to ensure the professional image of the setting is maintained.

Occasionally, small gripes about the setting may be aired on Facebook. Unfortunately, it is far too easy for a small problem to escalate when broached through an impersonal media in the safety of your own home. Many people can forget, in the heat of the moment, that Facebook is a public domain, visible by all, when posting a comment.

Just as with any publicly available material, such as posters, flyers etc., the information needs to be kept up to date and relevant or the Facebook site will look tired and unappealing.

Twitter has 100 million active users, with half of all users logging on at least once a day. On Twitter, in 140 characters or less, you can ‘tweet’ about anything at all. As a user, you may ‘follow’ others (i.e. you see their tweets) and be ‘followed’ (i.e. other users can see your tweets). Celebrities can have millions of followers – Stephen Fry has over 4 million and Lady Gaga has 23 million followers!

As a social medium, Twitter is good for making connections to like-minded people around the world. As an early years practitioner you can connect to people who also have an interest in outdoor play, sand and water trays or Reggio Emilia, for example. This can result in some very interesting discussions, contrasting practice in other parts of the world and sharing of ideas. Very often there are links through to a blog, website or Youtube clip related to the subject, which you may not have found by simply searching the Internet.

A good example of this is a recent book purchase I made. I had tweeted about a blog post on my website, about schema. Jonathan Mugan tweeted back to say he had done some PhD research about children, schema and how computers learn, with a link to his book. I clicked through on the link and was able to read the prologue of his book (The Curiosity Cycle) and subsequently bought it. Jonathan is based in Austin, Texas and his book had not come up on any of my previous book searches, because it is about technology and children (in that order). Without Twitter I would not be aware of Jonathan or his excellent book.

The beauty of Twitter is that the messages are short, to the point, instantaneous and you can choose who you would like to follow. It only takes a minute to tweet news updates to all the parents and is invaluable when there are problems due to bad weather, for example.

From a setting point of view, members of staff and parents need to be careful that comments on Twitter could not be misinterpreted.  They should be very aware that once a comment is in the public domain that anyone can ‘retweet’, i.e. send on to other Twitter users, who may possibly be a very different audience. Twitter is largely unregulated, so anyone can tweet anything they like. Recently there have been very public disagreements and offensive Tweets on Twitter, with at least one person jailed as a result of this.

Linkedin is the business face of social media, where professionals can share good practice, discuss the latest hot topics and meet similarly minded professionals around the world. Linkedin has over 150 million registered users in more than 200 countries, in seventeen languages. Members are joining Linkedin at a rate of 2 members per second around the world.

The comments are much more work related and formal than on other sites, because it is a business network. On Linkedin you can see other people’s ‘profiles’, which are details about their work experience, current work and education, in a CV format. This is great for recruitment purposes, especially if you are looking for someone who has a particular mix of skills, such as experience in a baby room AND drama experience. The other thing you can do on Linkedin is to market yourself for potential jobs, which is fine if your current employer already knows you would like to leave the nursery – or a bit of a shock if not!

Similarly, you may want to contact someone who has already done a qualification that you may be thinking of doing. For example, if you are considering doing a Masters, you can contact someone who has already completed his or her Masters to ask how much work it would entail.

Another benefit of Linkedin is being able to join ‘Groups’, which are discussion forums for specific topics. For example, Nursery World has a discussion forum, and there are others for trainers, professionals in child-care, UK education, Reggio Emilia and Early Years Professionals Networks. It is also possible to link with well-known authors, researchers and trainers, by sending an introduction message, explaining why you would like to link up (similar research areas or writing interests for example).

The down sides to Linkedin are that you have to pay for access to some of the more advanced searches and instant messaging, and that you must, by its very nature, give out many personal details about your previous employment, where you live etc. The thought of giving out such personal information to such a large network may make some people quite cautious about using Linkedin.

Forums are online discussion groups, where people can come and discuss work, personal interests, worries and exchange ideas. It is very difficult to find statistics about the number of forums on the Internet because anyone can set up a forum about anything, and there are millions of people using the Internet with millions of interests. You only have to look at the FSF to see the diversity of interests in quite a specialist group of people in a specialist area.

The benefit of forums is that you can discuss subjects in your specialist area, gather ideas and compare experiences. These can be useful places for practitioners who wish to ask questions anonymously, maybe because they are embarrassed about asking at work or because of conflicts at work. However, on some forums the quality of the contributions can be highly variable. Very occasionally, on forums that are not closely monitored, the exchanges can degrade to personal comments and insults.

In general with social networking sites, there should be some rules and regulations:

  • It is essential that every nursery or setting should have a policy, which clearly and unambiguously states what is acceptable, and what is not acceptable. This may include not “friending" parents and carers on Facebook or not mentioning nursery life on private accounts or on Twitter. This isn't to say that parents and carers should not be friends with nursery staff. In many cases staff will already be friends with parents, but staff and parents should be aware of the professional boundaries on networking sites.
  • Make sure that privacy settings are set up correctly so ‘private’ messages aren’t accidently displayed in public forums.
  • Have open and honest discussions with staff and parents alike. In this way, little things don't get out of hand, parent partnership is reinforced and people will feel more able to share frustrations, rather than feeling they have to turn to cyberspace to air their moans.
  • Make sure that permission has been granted to use images, or to relay information about people, prior to its use. This is vitally important if using images of children or vulnerable people. There should be nursery or setting policies and procedures in place for this.
  • Ensure that nursery or setting Facebook sites, Twitter feeds and forums are adequately monitored to reduce the risk of inappropriate messages or images being posted up. Any unsuitable material should be removed immediately.
  • Only share information that you wish to be public knowledge on networking sites. This includes employment history, news from the nursery or your thoughts on the results of X-Factor. You never know who may be reading the information or how it may be misconstrued. Similarly, be careful about photos and images that may go on the site. Even if they are removed later on, you will not know who has already copied them and stored them elsewhere.
  • It is good practice to update information and images on a regular basis. It is not very encouraging for parents if the nursery Facebook page is still showing the winter displays in mid-summer. This does take time and knowledge from practitioners, so it should be investigated before a Facebook page is established.

The growth of social networking sites does not look likely to slow down in the near future. As easier to use technology is developed, such as ipads and tablets, it seems likely that the range of such sites will increase with time. As long as practitioners are aware of the issues and have clear, regularly reviewed, guidelines there is every reason to embrace social networking sites and enjoy the benefits they bring.

References:

Facebook statistics are available on: http://newsroom.fb.com/content/default.aspx?NewsAreaId=22

Twitter statistics are available on:

http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-media-statistics_b17188

Twitaholic, a website that tracks Twitter and compiles the statistics about Twitter is available on:

http://twitaholic.com/top100/followers/

Linkedin statistics are available on:

http://press.linkedin.com/about


Kathy Brodie
Kathy Brodie is an Early Years Professional and trainer based in East Cheshire, specialising in the Early Years Foundation Stage and Special Educational Needs. She has designed and delivered many courses within the early years and has a particular interest in training practitioners working with the under 2s. Kathy also mentors EYTS candidates and tutors students undertaking the Foundation Degree. She was awarded a Masters in Early Childhood Education from the University of Sheffield in 2011.<br />Kathy's book, 'Observation, Assessment and Planning in the Early Years' was published in 2013 by Open University Press.
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