The Importance of Family in Early Childhood Education: Now is the Time to Reengage

Author: Lori Reemts, Project Coordinator for Curriculum & Instruction

Early childhood educators are a unique brand of teacher. Much like each level of a child’s school career, the earliest exposure brings dynamic challenges and high rewards. There is much to be said for these educators who really start it all. As the end of the academic year approaches, a mixture of emotions surges for these dedicated educators.

I am proud of my students, but have my little ones grown enough to be ready for the challenges of kindergarten and beyond? 

I am proud of myself, but have I done all I can do to help foster their academic growth as well as their physical, emotional, and social growth? 

Yes! We conquered the separation issue and there is no more crying!

What about that lingering behavior challenge? I still need to address that in a more proactive and supportive way. Do I have time? There is still 3 months of school left – but I need some help. 

I started the year off with great parent involvement and communication but it seems to have slowed. How do I keep parents informed and working with me as partners for their children’s growth? Will the support needed to sustain their growth occur in the summer? Maybe parents don’t know what to do.

I love and adore my kids but – oh my – how long is it until summer again?

At this time of year it may be worthwhile to spend a little time revisiting and reflecting on progress made so far. It may be easy to slip into the daily routine and perhaps miss opportunities to renew, reignite, or reinvigorate potential partners in our students’ learning, specifically the students’ family members.

It takes a village, a simple take on the Nigerian proverb regarding raising children, seems to be an idea of increasing importance as our society grows and changes. This idea can be loosely translated in support of the importance of the teacher/parent relationship. Research has consistently shown that meaningful family engagement in children’s early learning supports school readiness and later academic success. This really isn’t arguable. Parents understand this. Parents, like teachers, wish nothing but the best for their children. Parents, unlike most teachers, sometimes feel they are ill-equipped, lacking in resources, or that they simply do not understand early learning. It is important that we continue including and sharing with our families of preschoolers so that they are more confident in their abilities to productively support their child’s learning.

The National Institute for Early Education Research released a study in 2012 which looked at changes in parental expectations for their children’s school readiness and at in-home practices.  The study found that (for the time between 1993 and 2007) parent expectations for their children to be school ready increased. At the same time, the study found a significant decrease in the time families were engaging in activities that support children’s growth in skills such as self-regulation and higher order thinking, both of which contribute significantly to children’s school readiness (Snow, 2013). In an effort to provide the best for our young ones we often overlook the simple things that are directly in front of us. Rather than assume ill-will or apathy, let’s assume a lack of knowledge and practice.  After all, parents are not required to be certified; they do not have a specialization in early childhood.

It is in our best interest to not only partner with parents and family members, to support them as we all support the student, and to reinvigorate the family efforts and involvements but to work to keep that relationship mutually beneficial, just as we would any relationship.

Perhaps your classroom once had what seemed to be high parent interest and involvement, but as the year progresses that partnership seems to have waned. Where did they go? Perhaps your classroom has never really seen family engagement at all. Again, it is important to refrain from any temptation to pass judgment, and to seek to understand the “why” so that we can be the supportive resource our students need us to be. There are some simple ways to re-engage the families, thereby reinvigorating the partnership in learning. This, in turn, supports the village that supports the child not only in a pre-kindergarten setting, but throughout their learning career.

Ideas to Begin, or Refresh and Reinvigorate!

  • Reflect on your classroom environment and climate—is it still welcoming?
  • Create opportunities for authentic and useful parent involvement (i.e., within classroom supporting students, outside of the classroom prepping supplies or materials, etc.).
  • Hold “parent academies” either in person or online prepping families for the transition from PreK to Kindergarten. Build their understanding of resources that foster student growth in self-regulation and pretend play, learning about literacy and math development, and sustained growth over summer.
  • Encourage/model purposeful play, including open-ended questioning during play.
  • Create a “reference” sheet pulling together helpful hints to help parents as they work on open-ended play; interactive reading and questioning; authentic and meaningful praise; making connections; building on small challenges to gently push toward something new or a bit more complex; repeating and extending what a child says; using interesting vocabulary; modeling expected and appropriate behaviors; and encouraging investigation in self-selected areas, etc.
  • Share websites such as http://families.naeyc.org/.
  • Use regularly scheduled opportunities, such as conferences and materials (i.e., class newsletter) to share information, hints, and celebrations.
  • Create/display/share concrete collections of student experiences (i.e., student products, in-class photos, class memory books).
  • and more!

It could be argued that families are the most influential resource that early educators have whether it is the beginning of the year or the end. Make use of this resource! Renew and keep the partnership strong through the end of the year and beyond.

Source

Snow, K. (2013, January 1). Research News You Can Use: Family Engagement and Early Childhood Education. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from http://www.naeyc.org/content/research-news-family-engagement.


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