"I didn't know you were going on a field trip today." "Why didn't anyone tell me about this new curriculum?" "When will she learn her colors, numbers, and alphabet?" "Will he learn to read this year?"

Parents of young children today have an increasing desire to have more frequent communication regarding their child. What forms can this communication take? What are effective ways to share concerns, work through differences, and respond to parents' comments and anxieties?

Communication means more than just daily greetings at arrival or departure or conferences twice a year. It means creating the positive and welcoming tone that develops reciprocal relationships, encouraging family members as they work with and support their child, and thinking of new ways to involve, share, respect, and value families. The base of trust and respect that is developed in these ways is the foundation that allows active listening and positive response no matter what the issue.

Many parents strongly believe that a fundamental part of their role is to be their child's strongest advocate with the teacher and the school (Katz, 1995); other parents may be reluctant to express their concerns because of traditional and/or cultural beliefs that the teacher is to be the respected authority. Still others may have difficulty talking with teachers as a result of memories of their own school years, or they may be unsure of exactly how to express their concerns. And there are a few parents who may fear that questions or criticism will put their child at a disadvantage in school.

What is important is for teachers and families to remember that they know the child in different contexts and that each may have a totally different view of the child's attitude and behavior in the other context.

Strategies to Strengthen Communication

With your staff, discuss techniques to help establish communication with families that demonstrates a tone of respect and encourages involvement.

  • Take a personal interest in the child and the family. They will respect and value your concern.
  • Observe each child as an individual, without preconceived notions of family background or experience.
  • Guard against allowing stereotypes or generalizations about children to influence your curriculum and activity choices. Focus on children's unique strengths and needs rather than on superficial group characteristics, such as skin color or native language.
  • Investigate various learning styles and incorporate ways to use them to help children grow.
  • Demonstrate to families how their involvement can enrich your program. Show them specific examples of projects where a family member's expertise or knowledge benefited all the children. Emphasize the numerous benefits for children in seeing their family numbers contribute to the program.
  • Invite families to share their culture, customs, and traditions with the class. They may want to introduce children to some of the special events they enjoy at home.
  • Convey your respect for the family's input. Start your next conference by inviting families to ask questions and to express their own concerns. Be open minded about any questions or concerns that families may have about your program.
  • Encourage daily conversation to help families and teachers develop a warm, caring relationship. Being casually acquainted with the family will not provide a firm enough foundation to support all the discussions necessary over the course of an entire year.
  • When possible, e-mail can be an effective and easy method of communication, as questions and concerns can be addressed early and in a nonthreatening format. Communicating with families by e-mail can encourage sharing and can set the stage for open discussions.

Teachers are the front line of contact. They can set the stage for the child's success and the family's contribution through clear, open communication. Strong links between school and home are developed through a wide range of strategies. Remember to consider the needs and interests of all families of the young children in your program.

This article originally appeared in the October, 2000 issue of Early Childhood Today