Question: A parent of one of the children in my group is already talking about making sure her child is ready for kindergarten — and it's only the first month of school! I can already feel tension building between us. What is the best way to communicate my program goals to her?

Answer:  Usually parents truly want the best for their child although, in terms of an early childhood program, they may not completely understand what the best is. Luckily there are many ways to describe high quality early childhood education without confrontations.  I'd avoid one-on-one discussions about this. Instead, develop a multi-pronged parent education and parent participation program. No doubt many parents could benefit. Very likely you'll find some who advance your cause for you, making your relationship with this particular mother less adversarial.

Here are some approaches that have proven very effective over the many years that preschool and kindergarten teachers have been doing them. You can start with two or three and build your parent program each month:

  • Create a parent area in your classroom. Issue as many invitations as necessary to entice parents to hang out in it. You may want to have certain hours when it's "open." If you can make it available at two or three times of the day, more parents will be able to use it. The space will be small, but make it welcoming. If more than one person is in the area, make sure they talk in hushed tones and mainly about what goes on in your classroom and what they're reading.
  • Keep issues of Scholastic's Parent and Child magazine on a low table or shelf. The colorful, friendly magazine is super supportive of your educational approach.
  • Label each center. This is as helpful to parents as it is to children. Post a list of learning objectives near each center, including social skills, specifics of character development, and motivating children to want to learn in this subject area.
  • Plan a social event each month — a tea or an evening dessert party. This was always very effective for me. There was always a topic, which I chose or a parent suggested. I led a discussion, trying not to answer questions, but rather to turn concerns over to other parents. "What do you think Barbara?" "Sandy, have you had experience with this?" In advance, I selected articles (I kept folders full of them; now the Internet can help) and marked relevant chapters in parenting or early childhood books, which people could sign out.

There's consensus among early childhood experts as to what quality education for young children involves — enriched play; emphasis on the social skills people need throughout life; practice in explaining and following up on one's needs and ideas; a variety of informal, fun literacy skills; and opportunities to become deeply involved in math, science, art, music, and other valuable interest areas. Steep your parents in these concepts and more understanding will follow.