In our field, we often hear the phrase: “Parents are the child’s first teacher.” As educators we know how important it is to work with families to help their child reach their full potential. We use parents/families as a resource to better understand the child in order to help them be more successful in our classroom. But how are we acting as a resource for parents? Is there a way we can help them be more successful as they juggle life as parents?
I often hear how hard it is for teachers to get parents engaged. Some teachers have even communicated, “It’s like they don’t care.” They have parents that “drop and run” with their child in the morning. Some parents do the “ghost pick up.” They pick up their child so quickly you barely noticed they were there. Or the parent who never takes home the newsletter—even worse, you see them toss it in the trash without reading it. And let’s not forget about the parents who question the goings on in the classroom in a not-so-nice way, such as demanding their child stop scribbling when writing their name.
I was the type of teacher who wanted to form strong relationships, I wanted to discuss how each child’s day was with parents, and darn it—I worked hard on that newsletter! Thankfully I had the pleasure of working with some amazingly talented colleagues early on in my career, who taught me to envision life from the parents’ perspective. You know the saying, “Try taking a walk in their shoes.” This concept really hit home for me when I became a parent and then again when I became a single parent. It’s not that parents don’t care—our parents are working parents, and they have a lot to juggle. Plus, parenthood does not come with instructions! The majority of parents do not have an early childhood degree. They have not learned about the stages of writing and do not realize those scribble marks are building the foundation their child needs to make letter like forms and eventually letters. Every parent wants the best for their child. Some parents may still be learning what’s developmentally appropriate and learning how to do the juggle. This is where we come in as educators.
One way we help children to be successful is by meeting them where they are developmentally. We use different strategies to make learning easier for children. Could we use these same strategies while working with parents?
Let’s take the newsletter for example. Is there a way we could produce a classroom newsletter that is more reader-friendly?? Once I changed my newsletter format from a wordy, one page report to using just one power point slide layout (enlarged of course) I began to receive a lot more verbal engagement from parents. Changing the format created more of a read-at–a-glance instead of an overwhelming, lengthy report—this was a time saver for parents. They asked more questions about our projects and even brought in materials to enhance our classroom focus and concepts. It opened the door for more conversations at pick up and drop off because they knew I wasn’t going to overwhelm their juggle. I had become a resource for them.
We want children to be successful in every aspect in life and so do their parents. How will you be a resource for the parents in your classroom?
This time of year, we begin to hear the buzz of parents, teachers, and others discussing kindergarten readiness. “Is my child ready academically?” “Is my child ready socially?” Teachers work hard all year to prepare little ones so that they are ready for kindergarten. Parents depend on information from their child’s preschool teacher to assure them that their child is ready for the next step in their educational journey. Parents also seek opinions from family members, friends and fellow dance and soccer parents. “Should I hold him back since he has a summer birthday?” “Should I send her even though she seems immature socially, yet ready academically?” What can you do to help educate the parents of children in your preschool program about kindergarten readiness?
As early childhood professionals, we know that children will be screened for readiness in five critical areas known as Learning Domains and that there are developmental standards that a child will need to meet in each domain before they can begin kindergarten. Teachers in preschool programs work with children on these during the day, but do parents in your program feel equipped and understand the importance of also working with children at home?
So much learning takes place when children are engaged in play. Encourage parents to find simple moments in each day to help children become “kindergarten ready.” You can share this list with parents of things they can do at home to promote school readiness.
Keeping the lines of communication open with parents is key to successful school readiness. Sharing the results of screenings and assessments helps the parent understand where the child is developmentally, and what areas need to be improved. Keeping parents informed of the a child’s progress helps them reinforce what they are learning. There are many resources that you can share with parents. Five to Thrive is our local campaign to promote kindergarten readiness and registration information. Share the “Readiness Check-up Quiz” where parents can assess their child at home to see if they are developmentally on track.
Mornings are such a challenging part of the day. I have to get myself ready, make breakfast, pack my lunch and get Sara ready before I can leave. I forgot to buy diapers last night! I don’t have time to stop this morning. I can’t be late to work again. I will get another point. I will have to stop after work. I hope no one says anything when I drop Sara off. How embarrassing would it be to have to explain that I forgot?
I am ready, I can wake Sara up and get her dressed and to the car. The car. I forgot to look and see if the car windows are frosted. I better make sure. It would be easier to start the car before I wake Sara up. That way, I know she is safe. Then I can get her dressed. I will have to give her breakfast in the car. I hate feeding her in the car.
We made it to the car. Sara was not ready to wake up. I am not surprised since she woke up a couple of times during the night. I decided to leave her in her pajamas and her diaper wasn’t that wet, so it was easier to put her coat on and go. We made it to the car.
Traffic is slow. I hope I can make it to the program on time. I hope Sara’s primary caregiver is there. It will help me to be able to leave quickly. I need to remember to tell her that we were running late and that Sara will need a diaper soon. Why is Sara crying? I FORGOT HER SIPPY CUP AND BREAKFAST!! This is great, but thank goodness, there will be breakfast waiting! Maybe they have extra sippy cups! I hope Sara is ready to see her teacher.
We are here! Finally, some luck! I got a good parking spot! Please, please, please be an easy drop off. I really want Sara to have a good day. It has already been a rough morning. At least she will get to play and be with people that care for her. It helps to know that she is safe and well taken care of while I am at work.
I am almost to work. I will have a few minutes to spare. I FORGOT TO MENTION THAT SARA WOULD NEED A DIAPER SOON!!!
If you had this information every day about every child that was in your early childhood education program, how you would you use it? Would you be able to hold back judgement about why a parent forgets things or doesn’t have the item you have requested multiple times? Would you be more understanding about why a child is cranky and that since we have all been there take extra precaution to stay calm and show empathy? How would this information help you to understand what a child might need from you for that moment, hour, day or week? How would you want or need someone to support you if this was the kind of morning you were having? When we give families the benefit of the doubt and treat them with empathy and respect rather than assuming the worst, we may be supporting them in more ways than we realize.
“They don’t know my parents. They won’t take the time to fill this out.” I hear this statement over and over when speaking to programs regarding information needed from families. My response is typically, “I understand it seems like an insurmountable task to get paperwork from every family. What can you do to change this process or to help families complete what you need?” I know this isn’t what most providers want to hear but if the process isn’t working, it needs to be reassessed.
There are a few things that I process through with providers when this topic comes up. As far as learning about a child, asking the family for information is the best choice. The family is the child’s first teacher. The family is the expert on the child. We need to tap in to the family as a resource, not see the family as a barrier. I ask providers how they have educated the family on the importance of what is needed, whether it’s the Ages and Stages Questionnaire or a sign up sheet for a family picnic. There are times we need to market what we do to get “buy in” from families. We have to discuss the intentionality of what we are doing so others can understand.
I also ask providers to process their perspective of the families. We need to assume best intentions. Families are busy. Maybe they honestly forgot to submit the form. Maybe they misplaced it and are embarrassed to ask for another copy because you’ve already given them two. Maybe they do not understand what the document is asking. Assuming that the family is purposefully being difficult isn’t going to help meet the needs of the child. I’m sure every parent remembers a time when someone had the wrong assumption about them. It doesn’t feel good when someone thinks something that isn’t true. We need to keep that in mind when thinking of the families we serve.
As I talk to providers about this, I typically finish our conversation with assuming best intentions not only when asking families for paperwork, but in every interaction. For me, this is hard, but it’s getting a bit easier (depending on the situation). We need to remember that families want what is best for their children. I’ve yet to meet a family that doesn’t want their child to be successful. As we are discussing the importance of our needs with families, we can approach with, “In order for me to help the children be successful, this is what I need from you.” Make the expectations realistic. Let families know what they can expect from you. It’s a partnership. I also try to keep in mind we receive what we perceive. If we go into conversation thinking it’s not going to be successful, it won’t be. Thinking the encounter is going to be productive before it even starts is a great beginning to a wonderful partnership to help children, families, and providers become successful.
Greetings from a new mom! My husband and I were recently blessed to welcome our son into the world. It is everything and nothing like what I expected. One of the things I was expecting was to look for a child care program that would be able to meet my family’s needs. I wanted to share with you what types of things parents like us look for when selecting a program for our baby.
When I sat down to write this blog, I had every intention of showcasing different lenses that parents might be looking through—my lens as an early childhood professional and my husband’s lens as someone with a completely different background. I created my top five list for what I look for in a child care program and kept it a secret as I asked him what his top five were. What happened next really surprised me. The two lists were nearly identical. What this proved to me was that parents are parents are parents, no matter what walk of life they come from and at the end of the day, wanting the best for their children is often going to look the same. So here is our list:
- Quality, professional, engaged staff in all classrooms. When my husband said “quality,” I had to ask him what that meant. I didn’t want to assume his version was the same as my own. He said that he wanted the staff to be professional and well-trained. My part was engaged staff. It’s important for them to be actively involved with the children in their care—from being down on the floor with the babies to playing board games with the school-agers. Both of us felt strongly that these qualities should be program-wide and not just in the age group our child was going into. Ideally, our son will be at the program through many classrooms and we want quality care to be a constant for him.
- Safe area and safe practices. Safety is important both inside and outside of the program. The facilities and location play large parts in that. But, it doesn’t end there. Safe practices are also huge. This includes emergency evacuation drills, close supervision of the children and positive guidance strategies, among many others.
- Meaningful, stimulating activities. We want our son to have a great experience in child care. What he does while he is there is going to mean a lot. Allowing him opportunities to play, explore and interact with his peers will develop skills he’ll need his whole life. This may mean putting the bouncy seat or flash cards away and getting out the blocks or bubbles.
- Cost of care. I wish this wasn’t one of our priorities. But, it is, just as it is for countless other parents. I was happy that on both of our lists, it was number 4, because that means that other things were more important to us than how much money we’ll be spending each week. We’re looking for a happy medium between dirt cheap and super expensive. Ultimately, though, we recognize that it’s hard to put a price on the important job of caregivers.
- Convenience and availability. This was my husband’s number 5. Naturally, we would want a program that was within a reasonable distance from our home, or is close to our work commute. And we have to understand that even if a program has everything that we want, they may not have the space to take our son. So, this definitely weighs into our decision making process.
- Step Up To Quality rating (or STARS for KIDS NOW in Kentucky). This was my number 5. And while I think it’s important, it’s not a deal-breaker. If I find a program that’s impressive, but doesn’t have a high number of stars, it is not going to disqualify them from my consideration. However, if we are deciding between two essentially equal programs, where one has a quality rating and one does not, it will be a big factor.
This is not an exhaustive list. There are so many other things that we, along with other parents, will be looking for in a child care program. Knowing what types of things parents have in mind when choosing a child care can help you reflect on the services and practices of your program. Is there anything you are proud to provide in your program? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. We still haven’t chosen yet, and we’re not alone in our search.
A coworker recently challenged my thinking by saying that members of our 4C coaching team are early childhood education (ECE) snobs. At first I was offended. Of course I’m not a snob. I believe I have an open mind when working with teachers. I believe I attempt to meet teachers where they are and not pass judgment. The more I thought about it, the more I understood. She wasn’t meaning to be rude or disrespectful. She meant to challenge perspective.
As an ECE coach, I have an ideal classroom, philosophy, interactions, environment, etc. When I enter a classroom, I should put my ideals aside and ask how I can support the teachers. I must meet them where they are regardless if their philosophy matches mine. I need to coach toward Developmentally Appropriate Practice, not my idea of what should be done.
I may ask clarifying questions. “Tell me more about how you believe children learn.” “I’m curious about your lesson plan. Can you tell me what prompted this focus of study?” The questions I ask are meant to prompt the teachers to explain why they are doing what they are doing. Teachers need to have an intention behind every action.
I may ask the teachers to reflect upon an activity. “I saw that you closed the sensory table. I wonder what would have happened if the table were left open for the children?” The purpose of the reflective question is not to embarrass the teacher but to get the teacher to think of the situation from a different perspective. The teacher may have closed the sensory table because children were fighting over a measuring cup. If another measuring cup were brought out, would the fighting have stopped? Did closing the table solve the issues at hand?
While I was processing my role with teachers, I couldn’t help but think of teachers roles with families/parents. As adults we have beliefs on how children should be raised. We have beliefs about toileting, pacifiers, food, separation… the list goes on. As teachers, we may know more about child development and best practice in group care than some families, but those families are the experts on their child. The family is parenting their child according to their beliefs, their philosophy. As teachers we need to meet families where they are and not pass judgment.
Teachers can do with families what I do with teachers. Ask questions. Find out more about the families. “Can you tell me what you like to do as a family?” “Tell me about your bed time routine?” “What did you do over the weekend?” Questions aren’t to grill families about where they were and what they did or what they didn’t do. Questions are for building a relationship. Teachers and families must have a trusting relationship to meet the needs of children. We must meet families where they are.
As of April 1, 2014, my children had 43 days left of this school year. And my Sam who is wrapping up his junior year has 218 school days left to complete high school. I’m not completely sure where the time has gone. It seems as if just yesterday I was putting him on the bus to the first day of kindergarten and next September I will watch him drive away to the first day of his senior year. College seems so overwhelming. If memory serves, kindergarten seemed overwhelming too.
The funny thing is, some of the things that I remember helping Sam think about as we were gearing up for the first day of kindergarten seem to be the same things we are thinking forward to with college.
Everywhere I turn I see ads for kindergarten registration for next school year. As classroom teachers I think it’s important for us to remember that not all families have a comfort level with what getting their child ready for school means. As professionals in the field, we can support our families by sharing some of what we know.
- Inform: As you hear your families talk about kindergarten registration, and even if you don’t, share information about events that are happening within the community.
- Encourage: Tell families how important visiting their child’s potential school can be. Help them think through questions they may ask and some of the differences that they may see.
- Investigate: Ask families where they plan to send their child to kindergarten. Talk about kindergarten in your classroom to help children feel excited about the changes that are coming.
- Connect: Sometimes it helps to have a partner along the way. If families are open to sharing information with one another, introduce them to each other so that they can bounce ideas off of one another about things related to kindergarten.
- Be positive: Transitions, especially big ones, for both adults and children can feel scary. Help both families and children see the fun possibilities that lie ahead.
- Communicate: Talk with other professionals about the skills necessary to help children be and feel successful as they move from preschool to kindergarten. Share those skills with families so they can reinforce them at home.
As I look at the next 251 school days until my Sam transitions to college, I know I have a lot of work ahead of me. It’s really not much different than the work of families preparing children for kindergarten. I need to make sure that Sam and I have the necessary information to choose a good college, just like parents need to choose a good kindergarten. I need to connect with other families who have children at the colleges he is interested in so we can get the scoop on deadlines and fun activities, just like parents who are getting ready to send their children to kindergarten. And most importantly, I need to connect with Sam and his teachers so that I can learn about anything extra I can do at home to support him as he transitions from high school to college.
As early childhood educators, I hope you’ll take time to share with your families and children the things they can do at home to prepare themselves and their children for what’s next. So twelve years later as they start the preparation for college, they can remember the work you did with them to prepare for kindergarten and not feel so overwhelmed.