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Supporting the Home Learning Environment for Children with SEND Herefordshire Portage Service

In June 2023 the LGA were awarded funding to support the sharing of good practice across LAs, which supports the home learning environment (HLE).

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In June 2023 the LGA were awarded funding to support the sharing of good practice across LAs, which supports the home learning environment (HLE). Case studies we sought to share examples of how different areas are supporting the home learning environment for children with SEND. Herefordshire have been on a journey to transform services for children with SEND across the peace. Early years has been a key focus of this work and they also now take part in the Dingley’s Promise inclusion program.

The Portage in Herefordshire service were asked to share their experiences and learning.

What was the issue or challenge?

We have a number of children referred to portage needing support to engage in sensory play and we work in the HLE to support these children and families. Some parents are anxious about this in the home for example they and their children may be concerned about mess, so confidence and practical skills may be key. 

What did you do/the solution ?

1.    We work to make parents feel comfortable through the following steps:

  • We always check that the parents are happy for us to come into their home and always respecting their space.
  • We make sure how appreciative we are to be invited into their home/private space.  Often parents apologise for any mess etc. so we always reassure them that there is never any reason they should feel the need to apologise and make sure the parents are comfortable with us being there.
  • We also like to be clear we are a non-statutory service and non-medical to take away any anxiety they may have with other professionals in these roles.
  • We ask the parents what they have tried in the past and find out what they think messy play looks like. 
  • We ask them what they think their child likes or is interested in. We share ideas together.
  • We explain the different levels of messy play starting from dry to eventually (if possible) wet/sticky.
  • We also like to gage how comfortable the parents are with the different levels of messy play being set up within their home and we will look at alternative rooms/places for any of the levels they feel uncomfortable about.
  • We also consider the needs of the parent within the activities

2.    We plan for effective and appropriate graded resources

  • We will look at putting the child’s favourite (small) object’s within zippy bags of messy play materials – to try & tap into their curiosity.
  • We look at introducing messy play subtly within the play so it’s not just about the touch it’s the smell, the sound and look of it.
  • We introduce messy play to support children with anxiety around food textures that have impacted on their feeding choices. Given them the opportunity to explore textures without the pressure of it being anywhere near the mouth.
  • We try to use resources/materials already in the home and possibly adapt appropriately.

3.    We make effective use of the space in the home to maximise modelling 

  • Finding the space is always challenging within the home so we always find out straight away from the parents where they would like us to set the play up– inside/outside etc.
  • We always sit on the floor when playing.

4.    We engage parents and other family members (siblings)

  • We always plan for the possibility that the child’s siblings will want to engage in the activity or help with it so making sure there is differentiation within the activity.

5.    We check we are successful in supporting the children

  • Parents tell us how reassured they feel with us and the fact we take the time to build relationships with the family.
  • Parents feedback how at the end they feel more empowered to move on through other services and how they appreciated at first that we were able to take on more of the responsibility and them start to feed it back into their hands.
  • Working together on the Developmental Journals and how much they value the small step approach.
  • You can see the parents engaging and celebrating more what their child can do not what they can’t.
  • Parents tell us how appreciative they are with how flexible we can be with planned visits etc. than other services.

What was the impact?

  • 100 percent of families feel that Portage helps value the voice of the parent and child.
  • 96 percent of families feel that Portage has helped them understand their child’s development
  • 96 percent families felt that Portage had a positive impact on their child.

Portage feedback quote:

‘I am very grateful for the help and support of our Portage worker, the Portage team have helped some very difficult issues and made things so much easier and accessible thank you so very much for your ongoing support hard work hours and much needed help it’s scary being a parent and not knowing what to do with a child with extra needs this service has been a huge blessing and support.’


Ann Van Dyke MBE
Freelance Consultant

Tel: 07718124076
Email: [email protected]

Della Pascoe
Early Years SEND Manager
Children and Families Directorate
Additional Needs Team
Mobile: 07792880057                                     
Email: [email protected]