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Imagine for a minute your most valuable possession. Think about a stranger coming up to you and saying, “I’ll take care of your valuable possession for you every day. I’ll take good care of it, but I might change it a little because I’d like to have my own relationship with it. You can pick it up from me at the end of each day, but you’ll need to bring it back to me again every morning. (Keyser 139)
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Janis Keyser is a published author that cares about parent-teacher partnerships and her works have been adopted by the National Association for the Education of Young children (NAEYC). Her writings are about the success of the whole family in their homes and child care when the family is actively involved in their child’s education. Her quote is meaningful when you replace the words “valuable possession” with “child.” Would her words make you want to get to know that person first? Would you think it was important to spend time in conversation with the person caring for your child? Of course you would. Parents want to know the person responsible for their child in their absence. Communication becomes paramount in this situation. Parents and teachers need to develop a good relationship with open lines of communication. Teachers want you as a partner in your child’s education. When you don’t talk about school or to the teacher your child hears a message. That message says school isn’t important. The child may reason he or she isn’t important either.
Families know about their children and teachers know about education. This knowledge needs to be shared to promote your child’s success. Any connection between family and school is good. Family involvement is a term used to describe the family’s participation in their child’s school. Participation includes spending time at the school or a function, being active, and doing it with a smile. The school’s self-interests and ideas are supported through involvement. If the teacher would ask for someone to bring in sea shells for beach week, the parent is only in control of whether or not they will be able to complete the task. Family engagement is better as it is the family as co-contributor rather than merely a client. The family’s ideas and self-interests interconnect with the school’s interests when they are actively engaged. Eric’s family went camping and his mother and teacher were talking about how much Eric enjoyed it. Eric’s mother offered to bring in tents and other camping items if the teacher chose to do a study on camping. The idea and interest came from the family. Eric’s mother came and participated in telling stories to the children about camping. Children learn that school matters by seeing their family actively engaged. When everyone’s interests in the child’s education are supported and encouraged the teacher is better equipped to individualize the child’s learning, the family is comfortable to approach the teacher, and the child gains confidence. The family and child are also able to build trust within this new relationship. Engaged families allows for flexibility through the sharing of ideas and information to achieve beneficial outcomes. Children learn that school matters by seeing their family actively engaged. It is crucial that families and teachers develop trust and reciprocal relationships to enhance the partnership. That relationship is as important as the teacher-child relationship.
Teachers must have relationships with children that include trust and attachment. Education theorist, Erik Erikson said the first human emotional milestone is the infant’s trust and attachment to a caregiver. His theory states “this stage sets the life-long expectation that the world is a good place to live” (qtd. in Santrock 25). This allows them to take chances and risks in learning. Without trust they experience doubt and won’t take initiative and may feel anxious. The children need to make connections in order to develop independence. When they have a strong trusting relationship with adults it promotes cognitive, literacy, social and emotional developments.
You are your child’s first teacher and first experience in trust. When your child observes you and their teacher having a conversation it sends messages to your child. This message is that their family is valued and appreciated. Another message may be that your child is important to both parties. That happens when your child realizes the conversations are about more than problems your child may be having. Children enjoy feeling pride in their families and that has an influence on their self-esteem. When the family and the child are feeling confident it improves morale, energy and positive thinking among all involved. That will promote an enhanced learning environment for the child whether it is in a classroom or home environment.
The Family Involvement Network of Educators (FINE), a Harvard Family Research Project reported that children spend, “20 percent of their waking time annually in formal classroom education, leaving 80 percent of their time to explore and enhance their learning interests in non-school settings. (Lopez) Since the family is the child’s first teacher, the home is the child’s first learning environment. The family’s success is not about the clothes they wear, where they live or where they work. It is how they care for and nurture each other. Family interactions at home are learning opportunities. When conversations take place children learn new vocabulary and literacy development is supported through reading together. Children’s social and emotional development is promoted watching family members in social settings. They see how people deal with happy, sad, and angry moments. They watch problem solving when something isn’t going as planned. Their literacy development gains through familiar labeling in the home and regularly visited places. In a grocery store they see familiar brands on items. Children enjoy games about naming the color of the item, finding the letters in the name of the item, and counting how many items Mother needs to buy. At home while putting the groceries away the child learns responsibility while helping. Your child enjoys having conversations with you. Asking what happens if the ice cream isn’t put in the correct place supports your child’s critical thinking while they may be having fun talking about melted ice cream. There are many learning opportunities in the home environment that you do every day without being aware you are teaching.
I always talk to my daughter. When we go on a walk or to the store or on the bus, we are continually talking. We talk about what we see, we ask questions, and we tell stories. When her teacher saw us one day having a conversation in the garden at school, she told me that I was helping my daughter learn a wonderful vocabulary, which would help her learn to read. I felt so proud that I was helping my child learn. I thought only teachers did that. (Keyser 7)
These interactions are paramount to the child’s development. “Almost any activity – reading or play – does more to develop their minds, imagination, physical coordination, confidence and character than sitting in front of the tube.” (Griggs 1)
At home activities help promote school readiness. Children are learning more at earlier ages than in previous years. It may be due to both parents working and there are multiple early childhood programs in every city. Children entering kindergarten are expected to know their letters, how to use a pencil, count with an awareness of its meaning, and how to take turns. They need to know colors, write their name, and recognize some words. Children from homes where families actively engaged in literacy activities like daily reading together were above average in being ready for kindergarten. (Bower 1) There are families that expect early childhood programs to be responsible for the child learning these skills without the family doing anything at home to support the skill development. Today’s working parents feel overwhelmed with the time restraints. It’s not about the time it’s about “singing songs, reading books, and telling stories are important parent–child activities that support learning when children are young” (Lopez). These activities can be done anywhere and anytime the family is together. The National Institute for Early Education Research reported it is important to note that progress can be seen where a partnership between school and home will reinforce the learning and further the child’s development. The National Institute for Early Education Research also reported that discussing changes in a child’s readiness skills can open a dialogue about the child’s strengths and concerns of the teacher or family. (Snow 1) The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) published this article by Snow on the research findings and is a dedicated group that supports teachers and anyone interested through communication of information in early childhood development and education. It is a great source of information and knowledge and can be found at www.naeyc.com.
Communication is the usual one-way means of delivering information. Conversation, on the other hand, is a two-way exchange of information and much more apt to lead to a successful relationship between the family and the teacher. Is your child’s caregiver the previously mentioned stranger or your partner in your child’s education development? Teachers are well aware that many families have time restraints and must hurry off to deal with their daily responsibilities. Families feel “no news is good news” as the saying goes about teachers informing them about the child’s day. The families feel that the teacher would certainly approach them if something important needed to be communicated. (Drugli 7) Sammie’s family didn’t think it was important to tell the teacher during drop off about the death of Sammie’s fish. That would have been important knowledge for the teacher when Sammie suddenly broke down in tears because “My mommy flushed “Goldie” in the toilet at home.” That was a lost opportunity of a conversation between partners. It also would have prepared the teacher for the emotions and following conversation with Sammie. To adults this would seem inconsequential but a very important impact on Sammie’s emotional development. What message did she get from the family not taking time to discuss the incident? Sammie had to depend on her teacher for warmth and comfort. Children need to feel safety and security in every environment. It is important for teachers to understand the family structure of each child. Each family is different and cultures need to be respected. The dynamics of each family make it important how the teacher addresses family members. There may not be a father or mother. There are new practices in creating families. There are extended and blended families. There are multiple homes that a child may be living in.
Urie Bronfenbrenner, childhood theorist, says children’s development is affected by all the different systems they are part of and how those systems interact with each other. (Keyser 1) Children observe the adults interactions and learn from them. During drop off when the adults greet each other the child learns who is welcome at the school. The child sees mutual respect shown and that is comforting to a child. It is important for them to observe conversations and see the body language connected with it. This is a way they learn social interactions. Children are learning all the time everywhere they are.
Children are very perceptive and need help learning about social interactions. Parent-teacher relationships and partnerships are important but need to be developed with the children in mind. If one child’s parents aren’t able to come into the classroom to participate in activities the child may feel left out or unimportant. We should always approach ideas and activities considering the child’s perspective and feelings.
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Parents’ feelings are important too. Recently a parent confided in me that she is overwhelmed with work, home, and raising two children as a single parent. Her children are well cared for, clean, and always smiling. The children are a little behind in some of the areas of development. Teachers are educated about the domains or areas of development and are able to help support the child’s successful development. Teachers are caregivers that include education and developmental support. While talking with this parent I learned she felt inadequate and not good enough to engage in conversation with teachers or other parents. I assured her that all parents have doubts but they have children in common and they may find even more support and friendships along the way. Parents are as important to teachers as they are to their children.
I invite you to share an example of what you think family engagement in anywhere, anytime learning looks like. Let’s start a list of no or low cost activities families can do together. One idea may lead to another!
Bower, Carolyn. “Early Childhood Education Increases Participation and Attention, Teachers Say Study of Kindergartners Shows That Parental Involvement is Vital To Readiness for School”St. Louis Post-Dispatch[St. Louis, MO] 04 Nov. 1999: B,1:2. Print.
Drugli, May Britt & Undheim, AnneMari. “Partnership between Parents and Caregivers of Young Children in Full-time Daycare.”Child Care in Practice18.1 (2012): 51-65. Web. 7 Dec. 2011.
Grigg, France. “Teachers Ask Parents to Be Partners in Learning.” Cincinnati Post 9 September 1996, 8A. Web. 28 July 2014.
Keyser, Janis. From Parents to Partners: Building a Family-Centered Early Childhood Program. St. Paul: Redleaf Press, 2006. Print.
Lopez, M. Elena, & Caspe, Margaret. “Family Engagement in Anywhere, Anytime Learning.”Family Involvement Network of Educators (FINE) Newsletter, 6(3). 2014. Web. 3 August 2014.
Santrock, John. Children. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. 5-49. Print.
Snow, Kyle Ph.D. “Research News You Can Use: Family Engagement and Early Childhood Education.”NAEYC. Web. 22 July, 2014
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