By Molly Breen
For all parents, entrusting very small children into the care of other adults can feel overwhelming and stressful. They might wonder: Will my children be safe? Will they be nurtured? What if something happens? A parent’s list of questions and fears is lengthy and real.
How do we, as care providers, reassure parents that a) we will ensure their children’s safety and nurturing and b) we are their partners in the healthy development of their children?
Establishing excellent communication with families is essential to the best outcomes for children and for the success and continued support of your child care program. When I think about my own children’s early education, I remember how our “favorite” teachers communicated well, often, and clearly.
For my family, this communication included regular check-ins about what was happening in school for play and learning, plus notices for special activities and helpful reminders about important events and information. And these teachers included less formal and anecdotal check-ins as well: both good (“Henry was so helpful today with a friend who was having a hard time remembering expectations!”) and not-so-good (“Jude had a hard time keeping his hands to himself today. We will keep reminding at school and would appreciate if you would check in at home too.”). This regular communication helped my family feel confident that teachers knew us, knew our kids, and were invested in the child-home-school partnership.
In my setting, we use a variety of methods to regularly communicate with the families of our preschoolers. I write a weekly newsletter that includes updates on group learning and plans for the week ahead. I even like to include prompts for parents to use at home to get their children talking about preschool. In the newsletter, I also share links to books, songs, and other resources that we have been using in school. Photos from the week are always accessible on our school photo roll.
For daily reminders, my setting uses an app-based program that allows families to receive and respond to texts with the preschool. This app is helpful when we want to share a personal anecdote or photo with a specific family, and families can use the app to update us about their child’s attendance as well. For families who do in-person drop-off or pickup, we have a welcome board with weekly plans and reminders and an optional paper request form for a check-in with teachers.
When it comes to communicating a “first”—a milestone of some sort—that takes place during school, we do our best to share in real time or close to it. This might mean taking a photo or recording a short video to document the event and sending it through the app, or we might simply make an effort to connect with the parent at pickup time to celebrate the accomplishment with the child.
Small efforts like these go a long way in establishing trusting relationships with parents and children. It sends the message that a child’s teacher cares, is invested, is trustworthy. The more small efforts we make, the more they become a natural part of our role as educators.
While it may not be possible to document and share every moment of progress and development with families, we can do our best to create a culture of communication in our programs. This culture of communication means we commit to connecting the child’s experience at home to the school and then back to the home.
Talk to the families in your setting and find out how they like to receive information. Commit to communicating at least once per week about your weekly activities (some programs may require daily communication). Think about how to go beyond communicating only essential information to including more personal information about children with their families.
When we communicate well, clearly, and often, we partner with the families of our students in a shared narrative of development. And when we share a narrative, we can work together on the challenges and we can celebrate together the developmental milestones!
Molly Breen, M.A., ECE, has worked with kids and families for nearly two decades as an educator. A believer in lifelong learning, her heart is in early childhood, where the seeds of curiosity, character, and community are planted. Through her work with children as a practitioner in the classroom, Molly has developed broad expertise in curriculum development and instruction, behavior guidance, and social and emotional learning. In her role as a program director, she has created innovative approaches to professional and program development, family engagement, and community outreach. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her husband and three kids.
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