Parental Involvement in Preschools
Providing consistency for children in early education is essential to the successful development of childhood milestones. Although toddlers are notorious for testing limits, a clear set of guidelines and routines can free them from the need to look for boundaries, allowing them to focus on learning.
One of the things that can provide consistency for children in a learning situation is involving parents in the learning process. Parental engagement is vital to providing a consistent learning environment between school and home. In addition, when educators and parents practice consistency in rules and routines, a child can more easily adapt to moving between the school and home settings.
How Does Consistency Help Developing Brains?
According to the University of Georgia, repetition is the key to strengthening a child’s learning and development. Why is repetition so effective? When a child performs an action, they use the pathways in the brain that pertain to that specific action. When they repeat the same sequence, they strengthen these neural pathways until the activity becomes second nature. As the saying goes, “It’s just like riding a bike.” Once the action is learned, you never forget because those pathways become deeply ingrained.
Moreover, an environment that is consistent and predictable establishes a sense of safety and security, allowing the child to explore their environment free of fear. With this emotional security, a child can develop trusting relationships and form bonds with family, educators, and caregivers. In other words, consistency equals security.
But what exactly is consistency? There are four elements to creating consistency for a child:
- An orderly environment
These are great buzz words, but what do they mean, and how do they help create consistency? Let’s dig a little deeper into each idea:
Predictability refers to the relationship between a child’s needs and an adult’s response. Simply put, when a parent or caregiver responds when a child is in need, the child builds a trusting relationship with the adult. If an adult does not consistently respond, a child will not learn to trust. Therefore, they will be unable to anticipate a specific response from the caregiver.
Keeping a routine allows a child to anticipate what happens next. However, routine is less specific to time than it is to order. For instance, it is less important to have lunch at noon every day and a nap at one than it is to have naptime directly follow lunchtime. Creating a predictable schedule gives the child a sense of security and confidence. In addition, a child who learns a routine can become more self-sufficient as they become accustomed to the schedule.
An Orderly Environment
It is helpful for a child to be able to predict where things are. For example, a child who is looking for a book will know to look in the bookcase, or a child who wants a toy knows to check the toybox. This predictability can also build self-sufficiency, as a child can find the item they are looking for without help and put it away in a predictable location when they are finished with it.
Enforcing rules can be a tough one for both children and caregivers, but doing so in a predictable way strengthens a child’s ability to make good decisions and practice self-control. By consistently setting boundaries, a child will know what constitutes acceptable behavior and can then anticipate the response if they don’t act accordingly. Rules need to be age-appropriate, as do consequences.
Building Relationships Between Educators and Families
Since consistency is so essential to child development, the need for cooperation between educators, caregivers, and families cannot be understated. A child who is entering a classroom or caregiving situation for the first time will suddenly find themselves on unfamiliar ground, with new routines and rules. Remember that even adults can become flustered and uncertain with unpredictable changes to their routines, so how can a child be expected to learn in unfamiliar surroundings? Thankfully, the adults in their lives can ease the transition to a learning environment through advanced planning and collaboration between families and educators.
But do parents need to adapt their home routines to the educational program their child attends or vice versa? Not necessarily. Pushing rules onto the family would place undue stress on the family and be impossible to maintain. However, programs and families can work together to strive for continuity between home and school.
How can consistency be ensured? Let’s look at one program that incorporates policies that improve continuity of care: the Head Start program. The program’s Guidelines to Improve Continuity of Care includes the following three elements:
Head Start and Early Head Start programs incorporate each of these elements with specific purpose. All of them are geared toward easing the child’s transition into the program. In addition, these guidelines help provide a consistent environment of learning where families can continue the learning experience in the home. The Head Start Program has specific action items related to each element.
According to a 2015 study, parental involvement through the Head Start program led to improvements in parenting and overall academic achievement over time. The study also noted that parental involvement improved when staff was explicitly trained to encourage and support it. In addition, the authors hypothesized that adding more opportunities for parents to participate, especially where there were barriers to parental contribution, would increase parental engagement.
Parental Involvement Activities for Preschool
Although the Head Start program was predicated on the idea of familial involvement, it is not the only program to value and encourage parental engagement. There are numerous ways to promote parental engagement in early education, and each interaction is an opportunity for consistency. Potential activities in which educators can invite families to participate include:
- Accompanying the class on a field trip
- Contributing supplies to the classroom
- Speaking at a “show and tell” activity
- Helping in the classroom as “room parents”
- Giving a presentation as part of a cultural exchange
- Organizing or contributing to a family dinner night
- Volunteering for special projects
Whatever activities families participate in, the goal is to provide opportunities for communication between parents and educators and allow families a glimpse into classroom life. Educators should also keep in mind that their encouragement and flexibility will achieve the best results for parental involvement. As such, programs that invest in staff training are making a commitment to families and students alike.
Encourage Ongoing Participation and Open Communication
Most families want to participate in their child’s development, but they often need some encouragement and information to do so effectively. In addition, families can have barriers to becoming more involved in the classroom. These can include stressors like work schedules, disabilities, and family difficulties. Allow parents to contribute how and what they can while keeping the channels of communication open regardless of participation.
Communicating with families requires commitment and some work on the part of the educator. Some key strategies for effective communication with parents include the following:
- Be Friendly and Approachable– Let families know you are on their side and are looking for a partnership with them for the child’s best interests.
- Acknowledge the Importance of the Family in the Child’s Life– Your little learners have a whole world outside of the classroom. Let parents know you understand that, and express your intention to honor their culture, ideas, and contributions to the child’s life.
- Actively Listen and Ask Questions– If you are unclear what a family member is attempting to convey, ask for clarification. Find out as much as you can about your student’s life at home, potential challenges, and interests.
- Communicate Often– Check in regularly with families, especially if a student seems to be struggling.
- Don’t Make Assumptions– It is challenging to know what is going on in the home and what might best help your student to thrive and your families to participate. Ask questions and try to provide opportunities for success.
- Provide Families with Information on Classroom Procedures and Policies– All classrooms need rules, but don’t assume the parents can remember them all. Make sure you provide the information at the beginning of the term and remind as often as necessary.
- Check in with Families Who Aren’t Participating– Check in but don’t shame them. Find out what barriers they may be facing and ask what support they need to better participate. Do your best to meet their needs.
- Provide Easy Means of Communication– Families have different needs, and having some flexibility regarding the means of communication can help encourage participation. For instance, some families may not like to use technology like computers or smartphones, while others might find certain technologies more convenient due to their busy lifestyles. Do your best to offer a variety of methods to communicate.
- Give Positive Feedback– Wherever possible, send families positive messages about their child’s achievements or just let them know how the day is going. Allow families to celebrate accomplishments.
Tools for Improving Parental Involvement in Preschools
One of the biggest communication hurdles for educators is finding the time to reach out to parents. Parents too can find themselves overwhelmed as they need to earn a living, keep food on the table and attend to all of the children in the family. It can be challenging for even the most privileged teachers and parents to find time to interact with each other.
However, there are tools to ease the process and allow for a more consistent flow of information between parents and educators. One of the ways in which educational programs streamline not just communication, but all aspects of teaching is through the use of educational software. Focusing for now on the communication benefits of educational software, let’s take a closer look at how it can help.
Preschool programs can significantly benefit from purchasing software that is specifically designed for early education. Learning Genie, a leader in early education software, includes many features to streamline and encourage family engagement. With Learning Genie, families can easily access an educator on whatever device they have nearby. Below is a summary of the various modules included in the Family Engagement Suite from Learning Genie:
Each of these modules was designed with ease of communication in mind. Educators and families alike can access the programming from an app on a phone or tablet or from a computer, making communication easy even during activities. Educators can also send pictures or videos of the children, providing families with a window into the daily life of the children in their care.
Other Advantages of Using Educational Software
Learning software comes with many advantages for everyone involved in the learning process. For educators who are balancing teaching and data collection, using learning software can streamline record-keeping and enable more time for student engagement. Programs can also benefit through cost savings and easy access to reporting data.
Learning Genie lists three main areas in which the software can improve program implementation:
- Portfolio Development– Whether portfolios are required for state or federal reporting or are only needed for student tracking, digital portfolios allow for faster documentation. In addition, educators can add picture and video evidence to portfolios, use batch reporting, and add comments using voice-to-text. Portfolio viewing is enhanced by data filtering and quick status reviews.
- Interactive Daily Reporting– As noted above, educators can upload pictures, videos, status reports, and activity data for parental viewing. In addition, educators can provide access to the books they are using in the classroom, allowing parents to continue learning in the home.
- Metric Data and Reporting– Administrators and educators can upload and view data remotely. An easy-to-use dashboard makes data accessible at a glance for easy reviewing. Educators can also create and print portfolios for parents to view.
Of course, learning software also needs to benefit families to have a tangible impact on the young learners. Fortunately, Learning Genie also has features for families. Parents benefit from instant updates, access to learning materials, parental reminders, and accessible communication with teachers.
Putting it All Together for the Benefit of Young Learners
Whatever it takes to make it happen, providing consistency for children in the education system comes with a great deal of reward. Consistency is best achieved when parents and educators work together to find common ground and provide predictability for the children in their care. In addition, parental involvement in the classroom provides continuity between the home and school. It truly does take a village to raise happy, confident, and well-educated children.
In truth, whether you are a parent or an educator, you cannot always be there to ensure your child reaps the learning benefits from providing continuity. However, when parents and educators use all of the tools they have at their disposal to work together and communicate well, the rewards will reverberate into a child’s future academic life and opportunities.