One of the things that I think we do really well in our preschool (and in the early years sector generally) is to build bonds with parents and carers. In part, this comes about of necessity – when you help a two year old to settle into his or her first early years setting, you have to do so with the support of the family. Small children can find it hard to tell us whether we are meeting their needs, so working with parents helps us gain a wider perspective on how we are doing. Young children are also less likely to be able to explain to their parents what they have learned at preschool, which means we have to find ways to communicate this information to the families. We see parents/carers (often grandparents) when they drop off and pick up children each day, so we have a regular opportunity for informal chats. Here are some of the strategies we use to build those all important bonds:
* A home visit before the child begins at our setting, to start making links and gathering information. (Because we are part of a small, tight knit community, we can often anticipate and adapt for the needs of children well before they start at our setting.)
* A specific member of staff with responsibility for looking after new starters until they are fully settled, however long this takes.
* An ‘All About Me’ questionnaire on entry, so that parents/carers can give us information about their child.
* A ‘key person’ for each child, as a point of regular contact for parents or carers.
* Allowing parents to stay with their child when he or she starts at preschool, for as long as they feel is appropriate.
* A significant amount of parental input into the day-to-day running of the setting via a management committee made up of parents.
* A weekly blog, explaining what we have done in preschool that week, and why we did it. The parents and carers can leave us comments on this too.
* A weekly email, containing a link to the blog and a ‘top tip’ for support at home.
* A termly newsletter with important updates and more detailed information.
* A text message service for urgent updates, for instance on ‘snow days’.
* Two questionnaires during the year, to get feedback on different aspects of our setting. We collate the results and respond to them by making adaptations to what we do. These questionnaires have been adapted over the years in response to parent comments.
* Workshops for parents/carers in areas that have been flagged up as of interest or need.
* Specific tasks for parents/carers at drop off time – for instance, helping the child to change their reading book and to self register.
* A ‘Learning Journey’ that is available to parents/carers in the child’s drawer at all times, giving detailed information about the child’s learning during their time at preschool.
* Parent/carer consultations with their child’s key person each term.
* Close involvement from parents/carers in fundraising for the setting, with lots of social opportunities, such as cake sales and parties.
* Inviting parents and other family members in regularly, for instance to ‘stay and play’ days, celebrations and preschool performances.
* Home/preschool information sharing, for instance via ‘WOW’ slips that the parents can fill in at home and bring in.
* Information boards that show ‘what we are learning’ and ‘why we are learning it’.
* Welcoming volunteers – parents, grandparents, ex-parents – we are open to them all!
* Requests for help and support in improvements to the preschool. For instance, we got parents and children together on a weekend, to help us build our garden area.
Of course, one of the reasons why it is possible for us to do all these things is because we are a small setting. However, we do pride ourselves on being responsive to parents and carers – we see it as a key part of our ethos. Remember that putting parents and carers at the centre of what you do is not the same as ‘giving in’ to parental demands. Our approach is often more about explaining why we do what we do, so that our parents and carers can understand the thinking behind it. It is up to our setting leader and our staff to lead on the pedagogical aspects of how our preschool is run – we go with their professional judgement on this. However, we can and regularly do make adaptations to other aspects of our practice. (For instance we recently started opening fifteen minutes earlier, after requests from parents.) As educators we should always bear in mind that it is the parents and carers who know most about their own children, and who spend most time with them. When they are given the chance to contribute, parents and carers are a potential goldmine of information and support.