Research consistently shows that parental involvement maximises the effectiveness of early child development programs. The importance of strong family:centre partnerships cannot be underestimated when it comes to developing an Emergent Curriculum approach, after all the family is the richest source of information about the individual child and a true learning community welcomes the contributions of all of it’s members.
Both the centre/school and the individual family share responsibility for maintaining meaningful communication and exploring ways of sharing information. The centre/school needs to maintain avenues that enable the family to easily contribute and parents need to be open to taking time and making the effort to be involved. A good way to start is by considering ways families can be involved in each area of the centre/school’s operation. These are some initial ideas that I have successfully used;
Enrolment process: As part of the Enrolment Form include questions that will collect information about the family, their routines and the enrolling child. For example;
- Together as a family we enjoy
- What new things has your child recently expressed interest in/fascination with?
- What makes your child unique?
- Some of the concerns we have about our child are
- At the end of this year we would like to see our child…
- Ways in which our family would like to be involved in the Centre
- Make provisions for small groups of enrolling children and their parents to visit the centre/school and be involved in a play session or fun activity, three short visits per family work well.
- Conduct a parent information session about your philosophy and curriculum process so that they are well informed about the centre’s approach to early learning and can support the program in appropriate ways.
- Send a letter/booklet to the enrolling child introducing their educators and telling them about the activities/routine of the class, including photos is important for young pre-reading children.
- Ask a family member to stay with the child for the first few mornings once they have formally started.
Resources: As parents, look for ways to contribute resources from home which will support the learning program that you see evolving. As educators, tell families what would be helpful, ask specific families to contribute as appropriate. For example, a builder father made a solid cubby house frame that was reinvented regularly by the children as everything from a pirates den to a fairy castle to a firehouse, dependent upon their current investigations. Another family screwed planter pots onto castors so that we could grow vegetables and easily move the heavy pots around the grounds.
Skills: Consider offering your time to share your skills. Anything from sewing with the children, drawing with them, yoga, singing, drama, the possibilities are endless.
New ideas: Parents often share fun and interesting ideas that relate to the learning program and can be easily incorporated. One Mum offered to come and show the children how to juggle as part of a project that stemmed from an interest in the movie, ‘Dumbo.’ A father once arrived with shopping bags full of ice cream and cones for all of the children in the centre as his son had told him about the ice cream van we had built in the playground.
Fundraising: Families can assist with fundraising activities in so many more meaningful ways then selling boxes of chocolates! Knowing your families well is essential to working meaningfully with them. I knew of a stay at home mother of two who really wanted to find a project to keep her busy and as a result of my request she managed the publication of a fantastic family recipe book which we sold as a fundraising endeavour.
Events: Educators should consider ways to make it easy for busy families to be involved. We hosted an annual Easter Hat Parade but instead of the expectation being on the family to create a hat from scratch at home, we would conduct a series of workshops in the lead up to the event where parents could come with their children and everything would be provided for them to make a hat together.
Celebrations: Think about fun ways for families to celebrate special events together – a yoga or belly dancing session for Mums and kids for Mothers Day, tribal drumming for Dads and the children for Fathers Day are a few examples.
Cultural experiences: Families come to the centre/school from a whole host of cultural backgrounds and should be welcome to share experiences that will support the children to develop values and attitudes that accept the diversity that makes our modern communities so rich and complex. I have had families share their Jewish Shabbat customs with the children, conduct cooking experiences with the children to celebrate National Swedish Day and help educators with the provision of resources for Chinese New Year celebrations.
Training: Consider ways to involve families together with educators in a range of training/information sessions. This will enable the centre/school to create a shared understanding between families and educators about issues relevant to children, parenting and families. By inviting parents to enrol in a first aid course hosted at the centre, I was able to retrain a number of my educators at no expense.
These are some initial suggestions for growing a partnership between families and educators within an early learning program.
Do you have any further ideas to share?