Building meaningful connections with parents is one of the most important considerations when working with young children in early care & learning programs. When mutual trust and open communication is established from the beginning, families can feel a sense of belonging that leads to a more cohesive connection between school and home. In this article, we share tips for facilitating early and ongoing connections with families that honor each family’s unique needs, values, and preferences.
The Importance of Parent-Educator Partnerships
While we may have special relationships with children, we can never know them in the same way their parents do. Each family has a wealth of information and knowledge about their child that is incredibly valuable to educators, as we try to support the child’s healthy growth, learning, and development while they are in our care.
According to an issue brief about parent engagement from Pennsylvania State University, support for parents from early childhood caregivers and educators has a profoundly positive impact on the child’s behavior, social skills, and academic performance. “Parents play the lead role in supporting their children’s early development and school readiness. When parents are able to provide nurturing care and strategic support for learning, they foster child brain development in ways that increase capacity for learning –building early attention, memory, and problem-solving.”
Establishing Initial Relationships
Starting off on the right foot is crucial for establishing meaningful relationships. The Penn State University issue brief explains that “positive parent-teacher partnerships established when children are just beginning school set the stage for ongoing parent engagement and home learning support in the school years that follow.” Asking each family about its culture, needs, values, and preferences can help to establish open lines of communication and get the relationship off to a solid start.
When we approach these relationships with openness and interest, families feel welcome and a relationship of mutual trust can take root. To ensure a strong start, you might consider hosting intake meetings or a welcome session when new families join your classroom. Here are some questions you might find helpful to ask during initial meetings with parents:
- What are some of your child’s favorite activities at home?
- What does your family’s daily routine look like?
- Is there anything we can do to help ease your child’s transition into our community?
- Are there any skills you are particularly hoping to see your child develop, while he/she is in our care?
- What is the best way for us to contact you during the day?
- What kind of updates would you like about your child?
- Are you interested in being involved in activities in the classroom?
Honoring Differences in Values and Beliefs
As you connect with families, you will learn about their values and beliefs regarding their children’s learning and development. It is important for us to be curious and open to understanding parenting styles and family practices.
Some parents might encourage their children to become independent and self-sufficient, while others might be more concerned about their children’s collaboration skills. At home, some children might sleep in their own bedroom, while others might sleep alongside their parents. Some parents prefer communicating in person, while others might be more comfortable with an email. As often as possible, try to honor the family’s preferences in order to continue building a more collaborative relationship.
Creating Ongoing Opportunities for Connection
Even after families have settled into the early learning program community, it is important it is important to find sustainable methods for connecting with families on a regular basis. It can be challenging to find a way to schedule meeting time that fits both a family’s scheduling needs and the busy schedules and routines of an early learning classroom.
Less formal options for maintaining parent partnerships and open communication can also be helpful. Ideas to consider include:
- joint activities that allow teachers and families to work together toward a shared goal as equal partners. Examples might include inviting parents to help set up a project for the children or plan a family event for the school.
- family-teacher check-ins as a way to engage in open and collaborative conversations about topics such as family involvement, drop-off and pick-up routines, and community-building activities. These can be hosted at times that fit into your schedule, such as during lunch time or before evening pick-up.
- parent surveys and questionnaires that invite families to share information about their culture and home practices, such as foods they enjoy or music they listen to.
- brief conversations during drop-off and pick-up. These can be as simple as letting parents know what their child enjoyed doing or learning that day or the previous day.