Not long ago, I was surfing the net, reading newspapers articles dealing with education matters when I cam upon an article in the New York Times. It struck my attention as it reported on an English teacher at Montclair High School who had tried to keep the parents of 9th grade students involved by asking them to do homework assignments. The ninth graders completed their assignments during class, and the parents were then supposed to write their responses on a blog that the teacher had started online.
The teacher, Mr. Frye, noted that the plan addressed parents' complaints about never getting to see their kids' work, and he added that some parents seemed happy to revisit their high school years. The article got me thinking about parental involvement in my preschool setting. I do remember when my children used to go to preschool. I wanted to know more about what they were doing but my girls were not very explicit and usually didn’t want to talk about it. I would get bits of information here and there but it never quenched my thirst. I sometimes felt frustrated because I was afraid to ask questions to the manager. I didn’t want to take too much of her time as there were so many parents picking up their children. And whenever I could get a peep into the classroom, it was never really enough for me to see what my child were at. This is something I wanted to improve when I opened up my setting. I didn’t want parents to feel like I did. Though the playschool I had chosen for my kids was excellent and had a very good reputation too, I felt deprived many times of sharing my daughters’ early years experiences. So in September 2008, I made sure I had several means to include parents in their child’s learning. However, after reading the article in the new York Times, it reminded of my earlier commitment to a strong relationships with parents and this summer, I decided it was time to re-assess the situation and see if I had done enough..
Time for an audit. I made a list of everything we do at The Guilletots to promote good communication with parents and to encourage their participation.
- Having a notice board in the entrance of the school with informative news and other important documentations. We pin up the latest photographs of the children during various activities and we always have a sign announcing the current theme.
- Having an open-door policy (parents are welcome to come in the classroom with their child all year long). If a child is not settling well at the beginning of the year, we welcome parents to stay with the child for the whole session or for an hour, as long as it is necessary for the child to feel safe and happy.
3- We try to involve parents in their children’s life at playschool by:
- Letting parents borrow any books or publications they wish. We have a little library at their service in the entrance hall and they are welcome to borrow any literature that they interest them. In the library, we have also included a copy of our Policies & procedures, leaflets/notebooks on the latest legislation on childcare, Aistear Principles handbook, Siolta handbook, the National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of the Children (Children First) etc..
A bit bare at the moment but I recently purchased second hand Montessori books. I haven't got around to put them up on the shelf.
- Creating a DVDs with lots of photographs of the kids, music playing in the background. It gives the parents a glimpse of what they children do in class, how happy they are, who they play with. It is a treasured gift to parents and we usually offer it to them before Christmas break.
From what I gathered, I have actually worked a lot on the issue. Yet, I do not want to fall into a cycle of repetition. Each year should bring novelty in my attempt at involving parents. Some children have siblings following their footsteps in the playschool and I want their parents to recognise our attempts and our creativity at including them. So what else could I do to develop further parental involvement? I need to proactively develop more practices o ensure parents are involved. The key is to show them we want them to be part of the playschool life. Here is what I came up with :
- Planning and holding an informative night for parents on the curriculum and the Montessori method of education.
- Setting up a suggestion box in the entrance for parents to leave feedback. Some parents are shyer than others and it should allow these parents to still participate to the life of the preschool.
- Allowing children to borrow books from the book corner to bring home. Each book would come with a pack of writing/counting/colouring activities to play in connection with the story in question. I got the idea from Our Random Acts of Reading. This one is going to take longer to implement as it involves a lot of work on my part. But I think it would be a great addition to our procedures.
- Giving parents tips for arts and crafts, games or cooking activities to broaden up learning opportunities for the children.
Making parents comfortable in a child care setting requires just as much effort as making sure that the children are comfortable. Every child who comes to our program needs to feel a sense of belonging. Moms and dads need that feeling, too. There is a myriad of other ways to get off to a good start in establishing relationships with parents but the one mentioned above are the ones suitable to our philosophy, our schedule, our goals and our premises. Being creative and open-minded is essential. But keeping a positive, humorous and compassionate perspective of moms and dads will serve to strengthen my relationships with the children in my care ... and that, in itself, is a reward!
What about you? How do you get the parents in your setting involved and informed? I would love to hear from you.