Parent engagement as a key factor in early care and education

My colleague, Aparna, who has a nearly two-year-old daughter in child care, reminded me today of an interesting situation that often happens in early childhood: separation anxiety. As a former preschool teacher, I know the scenario very well. Parents often establish a daily routine for dropping off their children at child care or preschool, routines varying from child to child, with the hope that the familiar ritual will help the child adjust. Some children are excited for "school" and mom and/or dad leave seeing a big smile on their child’s face. Other children may become upset, even scream and cry, but after a couple minutes of mom or dad not being present, the child becomes their normal, happy self. Whatever the situation may be, it reminded me of a good topic for today’s blog -- not forgetting about the parents!

Sometimes I think teachers may forget to ask, how are the parents doing? How are they feeling about leaving their child for the day? What are their thoughts and opinions about things?

The average child in child care or preschool is in early care for several reasons. These reasons can range from having full and part time working parents, to parents wanting to have a social life, to parents wanting to expose their children to social and intellectual environments that they can only receive outside of the home. In any situation, however, I know that parents would love to be included in the curriculum.

There are many ways to involve parents in the early childhood classroom. For example, teachers can invite a parent to join at circle time or to come in for story time as a “guest speaker.” Alternatively, for the parents who have to run to work, teachers can ask parents to send a picture for sharing. To take things even further, teachers should consider a family bulletin board with pictures and paintings and read books about different family types.  Family events are also great opportunities for parents to connect with each other, which in turn helps build a stronger community.

Incorporating parents and families into the curriculum helps tremendously in many essential areas of a child’s development. Socially/emotionally, it allows children to take a sense of pride in their family, as well as develop a sense of self-awareness.

Children’s language skills can also develop from incorporating families into curriculum by sharing and talking about family members, which broadens their vocabulary.

Surprisingly, incorporating families into curriculum also exposes children to social studies and diversity. They learn that they are a member of a family, as well as their family’s (and others) cultural background and traditions. 

Remembering to incorporate parents can also have benefits for the child care and early learning system as a whole. So much in fact, that this seemed to be one of the biggest messages I took away from attending a book event at the New America Foundation yesterday. The book event was on Kids First: Five Big Ideas for Transforming Children's Lives and America's Future by David Kirp. Although I admit to not having read the book, Mr. Kirp made some interesting suggestions in regards to the importance of parent involvement in early care and education in his discussion with Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education initiative at the New America Foundation. He believes that one of the keys to successful and quality early care is engaging parents and connecting neighbors and community members.  He stated that “the brown mommies and the blond mommies have one thing to come together over: their children.”

Anyone read his book? What do you think?