Tag Archives: families

Becoming a Resource for Parents

family-resourceIn 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?

Perspective

roughmorning

It’s Morning:

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.

Let the children BE

I’ve decided I want to get the word “Be” tattooed on my wrist as a reminder. For me, it would be a reminder of a lot of different things. Relax. Be in the moment. Let the children be. Let the activity be. Watch. Observe.

It’s becoming increasingly stressful to be an early childhood educator. The demand to get children ready for school is an ever-present thought in every educator’s brain. My reaction to these demands is to BE. Be with the children. Grasp those teachable moments. Be in the process.  Give children finger paint and let them explore. Be outside. Participate in the wonder of nature. Be amazed at the children’s curiosity. Read books. Be in the story. Be quiet. Listen to the environment. Listen to the children. You may be surprised at how much children learn during these moments. You may also be surprised at how much YOU learn, as well.

Children learn best when we can relax and remain present in the moment. But what's the best way to do that?

As we are being, we are teaching and children are learning. Children are learning the scientific process while interacting with paint. They are learning about textures while exploring nature. Children are learning writing skills while using crayons and markers. They are learning math skills while working with blocks. Children are learning self-regulation while engaged in dramatic play.

Most of all, children are learning to BE. They are learning to be competent learners. They are learning that school is fun. They are developing a passion for learning. Children are learning to trust their adults. They are learning to trust themselves.

My advice to early childhood educators? Bask in the attention that’s currently being paid to our field. Showcase your talents. Advocate for your children. Educate society on what the children are learning because you are BEING with them. Have an understanding in theory and developmentally appropriate practice so that your BEING is rooted in a firm foundation. Know why you are doing what you are doing. Soon enough everyone else will realize the value of being, too.

– Christine

The Culture of Child Care

I had the opportunity to live in Seoul, South Korea for about a year. I was able to experience all different kinds of people and food. I had the opportunity to live in a busy, urban area and only use public transportation. Grocery stores were different. Everything I experienced while I was there was different.

But I hope you noticed that the word I used to describe my experiences was ‘different,’ not ‘bad.’ Sometimes, things that are different make us feel uncomfortable. Because we are uncomfortable and experiencing something that varies from our version of normal, we place judgment on those differences and label them as bad or wrong. Things that are different aren’t bad or wrong, they’re new. They provide us an opportunity to see things from a new perspective.

How can you make families feel at home in your program?

Each and every day new families enter our child care facilities and see things that are very different from what they have at home. These families are experiencing a new culture: the culture of child care. One that is naturally very different from their home environments. And it’s good that it’s different! For some children and families, the culture of child care can feel very overwhelming. There are so many people. The food might be different. The place they sleep probably feels different. The way people communicate might feel different. It might even smell different.

Knowing that child care has a culture all of its own, how do we make families feel welcome? Do you shuffle kids and families through your doors, expecting them to know just what to do? Or do you take time out to say hello and be available to chat with them about some of the new things they are experiencing?

When I arrived in South Korea with 2 young children and way too much luggage, I was greeted by a very large gentleman who spoke no English. I’ll be honest.  I was scared until he smiled at me, tapped my hand and pointed me in the right direction. His smile showed me that even though I couldn’t communicate with him verbally, that it was going to be okay. It showed me that all these very different things would likely be fun because I was surrounded by people who were friendly and willing to point me in the right direction.

I sure hope that you will take time to smile and point a new family in the right direction.

– Angie

Right and Wrong

A recent argument with my 16-year-old son ended with him stomping away and shouting, “You don’t think I do anything right!”

That comment really hurt my feelings, because I know that he does so many things right. He is one of the coolest young men that I know. He’s a responsible student that works hard. He’s a great friend to those around him. He is generous with his time and gives what he can back to the community. He asks really thought provoking questions that make people think. He can participate in very high levels of conversation about topics that are relevant to current events and life in general. I just didn’t understand how he could believe that I think he does everything wrong.

Photo courtesy of AngryJulieMonday.

Photo courtesy of AngryJulieMonday.

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t remember the last time I said something positive to him. Even though I share so many amazing things that he does with so many people in my life, it didn’t even occur to me to compliment him on all of the things I noticed him doing well.

Hiam Ginott, a school teacher and child psychologist, once said, “If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.”  Although I am using this quote to help me in parenting my son, I think this very much applies to the work we do in classrooms every single day. It’s important to let the children we work with know how valued they are and how much they are cared for and respected. There are times that adults struggle with positive things to say about the behaviors that happen every day in our classrooms or even in our homes with our own children. However, we don’t want to get into a situation where all the children hear is a report about the negative behaviors that are seen.

If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.

Children are miraculous human beings that are capable of so much good. Let’s tell them about all the good things that they are doing and can do going forward. So, the first thing on my agenda when I get home today will be to let my son Sam know how grateful I am to be his mom and compliment him on something he’s done well today. What nice thing will you share with a child to let them know just how wonderful they can be?

– Angie

“Tune In” to Language Development

When I’m observing teachers in the classroom, sometimes I want to remind them to bathe children in language, not drown them! Children learn so many things from a simple conversation: basic concepts like taking turns, listening when someone else is speaking (and expecting to be listened to when it’s their turn), when it’s appropriate to shout or whisper. We don’t have to over think it, but there are some important things to keep in mind.

Photo courtesy of Victoria Harjadi.

Photo courtesy of Victoria Harjadi.

Building a child’s vocabulary doesn’t happen when you’re quizzing them (with the best of intentions, of course) about items, shapes or colors. Incorporating these concepts into natural conversations is best practice. For example, when talking with children about a block structure, words like structure, taller, architecture and height may be introduced. There are opportunities all throughout your day for conversations like this one. “You made a circle with your paint!” “You threw the yellow ball into the basket.” It’s important to extend children’s language without being overwhelming

It’s also okay to not talk at times. Adults participate in communication all the time without vocalizing. Eye contact, body language and body placement are all forms of communication. The child who gazes at you from across the room may not need to be spoken to, but may want you to sit close to him or just make eye contact.

We need to value the child’s communication while they’re developing language skills. Some words may be hard to understand but we still need to value the attempt the child is making to communicate. Repeating what the child said can assist in clarification if needed. Repeating can also show the child you value what she said and that you are trying to understand.

Remember that children may be communicated with differently at home. When we not only have a relationship with the children in our care but with the families we serve, too, we can learn how families communicate and their expectations for their children.

I’m sure every adult has had the experience of talking to a child who appears to be ignoring you. Before getting upset, we have to look at the environment and think about the child.  Is the child actively engaged in an activity and may not have heard you? Is the music too loud?  Is the television on? What’s the volume like of the other children?  How many children are in the room?  Is the space too small for the amount of children?  Are there a lot of materials that make noise? With so much stimulation, children often can’t figure out what’s important for them to listen to. Adults can “tune out” when we want to, but children are still developing that skill. We need to consider the whole environment before jumping to conclusions.

– Christine

Holidays Can Be Teachable Moments

One thing I love about our society right now is that the typical family unit is anything but! Our family fits nicely into that category. We have four children total; one is his, two are mine and the baby is ours. But my favorite part of our blended family is that I come from a VERY Christian home (my father being a United Methodist Minister may have something to do with that) and my husband is Jewish. This calls for an extremely busy, not to mention expensive, holiday season.

Photo courtesy of techne.

Photo courtesy of techne.

If you were a little mouse peeking into our home during the holidays you would see a Christmas tree and stockings, the nativity and an advent wreath. You would also see a Menorah, about 25 Dreidels and loads of chocolate coins. Things can get complicated. When my middle son was explaining to his class that he is Christian who celebrates Hanukkah, they dubbed him “Hannuikan.” Both of our families had a good laugh over that one and his outstanding teacher took the opportunity for a “teachable moment” and had a lesson over the two holidays. Randy was able to bring in our Menorah and of course we provided Dreidels and chocolate coins for the

class.

I know I never played with a Dreidel until I met my husband. Now I sing the song at the top of my lungs with my children as we spin it and wait to see who is going to have the biggest pile of chocolate coins. I had never experienced Latkes or Sufganiyot and now my life (and my thighs) wouldn’t be the same without them!

My children are truly lucky to not just read about different faiths at school, but experience them. I am partnering now with his teacher so that throughout the year we can share the different Jewish holidays with his class and they can experience the traditions and stories that the Jewish faith has to offer. We have such a responsibility as educators to enlighten our students to the world around them. Bringing the experiences to them and letting them “live it” is what learning is all about.

– Joy