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Connecting with Children and Families…from a Distance

As educators and parents know, child care and early learning programs look a lot different these days. Since March, many programs have shut down in-person learning, while others have seen a significant reduction in the total number of children in their care. Many are offering, or are considering offering, remote learning options to engage children, support parents and maintain connections to families through the pandemic.

Remote teaching is especially challenging with young children, whose learning is built upon nurturing relationships and engaged interactions with their teachers. For that reason it is important to engage young children’s parents in the development of online learning environments. In this article, we offer suggestions for tailoring online programs so that they support both children and parents.

Gain Insight through Parent Surveys

One of the easiest ways to connect with parents at a distance is by emailing or texting quick surveys to get more insight into how you can better support their needs. If you are already doing remote learning with their children, you might send out a survey that asks how things are going. If you are considering remote learning, you can use a survey to find out what would be most helpful to them.

Tips for Creating Surveys that Provide Useful Input

Parents have a lot on their plates right now, given the stress and uncertainty caused by  COVID-19. Those who are essential workers or who have been working from home while having their children home full-time are busier than ever, so it’s important to limit the frequency and length of surveys. Surveys with five or fewer questions are more likely to generate a response from parents.

When structuring your survey, being thoughtful about the format of the questions you ask will help you get answers that you can analyze and act upon. Multiple choice and rating scale questions are easiest for tracking responses and collecting data. Check all that apply questions are a way to introduce a range of  potential solutions or options. This type of question often generates ideas from survey participants, so it is a good idea to include an “other” category with a space in which parents can add their own suggestions. Open-ended questions are helpful for capturing context and story but can be difficult to analyze, especially if you are sending the survey to a large number of recipients. Limiting the number of open-ended questions to one or two will encourage thoughtful responses that are easier to review and implement.

If you’re looking for help getting started with surveys, click here to read one of G2K’s previous articles, Inviting Parent Feedback with Surveys

Create Opportunities for Virtual Community-Building

Relationships are a critical part of preschool, and so a large part of remote learning includes opportunities for community engagement and building relationships, even from a distance. Video conferencing and virtual communities are great ways to keep children and their parents engaged and connected to your program, while they are at home.

Video Conferencing

Video calls can become beneficial opportunities for children to learn and socialize. Children will enjoy and look forward to online learning opportunities that allow them to see their friends and teachers.

To create opportunities for community-building, invite parents and siblings to join in “virtual family events,” using video conferencing. These calls should be brief, and include one activity for parents and their children to enjoy together, such as a virtual circle time or a story read-aloud.

Virtual Communities

Another way to foster collaboration and ongoing communication is by creating a virtual community. These can be used to keep in touch with updates and photos, and to share activity and curriculum ideas.

If this is new to you, here are some virtual community platforms that might work for your program:

  • Brightwheel: A platform for early learning with several features to help programs adapt to remote learning, including messages, alerts, newsletters and options to share lesson plans and activities with families through the app for at-home learning.

  • HiMama: HiMama is a child care platform that allows regular communication with parents, developmental reports, lesson planning and more. To help with virtual learning, the app also offers photo and video sharing, messages, and lesson planning.

  • Remind: Remind is a parent communication app for classrooms and schools. The app features file sharing, an option to connect to other accounts (including Google, Box, SurveyMonkey, and more), in-app translation, and group messaging.

  • Facebook Groups: Most of us are already familiar with Facebook, which is why creating Facebook groups can be a really simple way to get families involved with one another. If you choose this route, you will want to ensure that the group is private.

Maintain Consistent Communication

The pandemic has required all of us to become more flexible. Rules and guidelines are regularly changing, and it can be difficult to stay on top of the latest information. Because of this, creating consistency with families is key. Try to use the same video conferencing tool or early learning platform for each meeting, and across your program. Multi-classroom centers should try to use similar tools in every classroom so that parents with siblings in multiple classrooms will not have to learn to use multiple tools.

If you are doing pre-scheduled video conferencing meetings, try to keep the days and times consistent as well. This will help parents to plan and avoid having to keep track of changing schedules each week.

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