by Carla Poole

Inviting parents to spend time in your program builds bonds.

BABIES FEEL SAFE AND SECURE WHEN THE adults in their lives work together on their behalf. The relationships between teacher, baby, and their families can become an exhilarating network with the well-being of the baby at the center of the web.

This is a good time for a "midyear checkup," taking a close look at how effectively you've pulled parents into your nro ram and developed a partnership with them. Here are some ideas to help you continue to build important bonds with parents and families and increase their involvement in your program.

  • In addition to talking with parents, take time to observe their unspoken communication or body language to help you measure their comfort level in the classroom. Later, ask them how they are feeling about the program and discuss any concerns they might have.
  • Be friendly but not overwhelming so that parents can begin to open up to you at their own rate.
  • Let everyone know that you respect and appreciate the hard work of parenting.
  • Be sure your room is arranged in a way that encourages families to want to spend time there. Keep the entrance area open and uncluttered with simple but attractive signs welcoming them. If possible, have a space for families' coats or belongings. Consider setting up a large board on a wall near the center of the room for parents to leave daily messages. This sends families a clear signal: Please come in and let us know what is happening with your child. Include some comfortable spots, such as pillows on the rug or a small sofa, so parents can read a picture book to their child or a small group of children.

It is not always easy to embrace an approach that invites parent involvement, especially when there is a significant cultural or philosophical difference. A parent might be concerned about her toddler being polite and obedient, for example, while you may want to encourage exploration or initiative. This kind of situation calls for a discussion where you and the parents begin to talk about your different viewpoints. Gradually you can work on finding a compromise or common ground that is acceptable to everyone.

The most important ingredient for encouraging parent involvement in your program is your affection for their children and your respect for them as parents. When parents sense that you understand their child and appreciate their role as the most important people in the child's life you will find them reaching out to be an active member of the caregiving community.

Share the Care

Caring for infants and toddlers also means working with and supporting their parents so that you can benefit from their knowledge and experience. Here are some ways you can help parents feel comfortable in your program:

  • Encourage parents to participate in their children's activities when they are in the room. When parents feel that they belong in the room, children naturally feel more comfortable as well.
  • Spend time with parents as they interact with their children in the room. This helps to confirm to parents your support and interest in working as a team.
  • Show parents where important supplies are stored so that they have access to the things they need for their children when they are in the room.
  • Acknowledge that mothers and fathers are the experts when it comes to their children - they know how their babies like to be fed or put to sleep-but remain available when parents turn to you for help.
  •  Include special objects or customs from a family's culture to help them feel valued as members of the community.
  • Have coffee and bagels available one morning a week and invite parents to spend a little time in the room after drop-off. This is a great way to encourage casual information exchanges in a relaxed, informal setting.
  • Hold monthly potluck dinners for families who cannot spend time during daytime hours.

Questions for Families

Parents bring different family traditions and cultural beliefs to your program. Here are some questions you can ask to help families understand that you value them and their unique offerings:

  • When might you be available to visit? (A daily communication sheet on a bulletin board is the perfect place to include questions regarding parent visits.)
  • What activities do you enjoy with your child that you can share with the children in the program?
  • Are there songs, stories, or foods from your culture that you would like to share
  • What child-rearing practices have you found to work successfully for you that you might like to share with other parents?