A parent is tuned in to supporting a child's learning can be an extremely effective partner in helping you develop children's emerging skills. Here are some ways you can team up with parents to support children's day-to-day learning.
Building a Partnership
You don't have to be a mechanical whiz to find useful technology to help you communicate with parents. With such "low-tech" items as a typewriter and photocopier, you can create flyers and newsletters to send home and keep parents informed. With a color copier, you can "brighten up" these presentations. Some copiers do a good job of reproducing photos. If you're printing from a computer, you probably have access to lots of "fun" typefaces and graphics. Moving to the really high-tech, you might use your newsletter to let parents know about your class Web site and Webcam. If you don't mind teaching with a camera over your shoulder, a Webcam can be a great reassurance to parents, not to mention a wonderful tool for helping them understand what children do all day. If you're thinking about using one, you'll need (1) an existing Web site and (2) special software in order to get the camera working. Make sure you have a password-protected system, and carefully monitor who has access. Contact your Internet Service Provider to get started.
Another high-tech idea is digital movie-making. Get a digital camcorder and capture some footage that illustrates your curriculum. Plug your camera into the "firewire" port of your computer. Use some digital editing software to add text and transitions between the clips. Submit your movie to your local cable company: Most cable companies offer public access programming for free and will schedule a time slot for your magnum opus. It's great PR. You can also send home a tape with a child for a weekend and play the tape during parent nights.
Software That Supports Your Curriculum
Here are some programs you can use in the classroom or suggest that parents use to extend learning at home:
Stuart Little Learning Adventures
Teaches: early math, language, critical thinking. Two CDs include 29 well-designed activities that cover math, logic, and early language-all excellent supplements to any ECE curriculum. The first CD, which has been released twice before (as Piggy in Numberland and later as Stuart Little in Numberland) does an excellent job at playfully introducing a variety of early math concepts with number lines, addition, subtraction, place value, base ten, and early geometric thinking. There are simple games (such as dot-to-dot puzzles), as well as more complex activities, such as in Bee's Toy Store, where players help a shopkeeper count out items for customers by ones or twos. The all-new second CD covers language concepts including phonics, abbreviations, rhyming, and more. The basic premise is the same-to win brainpower by flying Stuart Little around a whimsical 3D environment. Children can take these points to an Imagination Machine and make new toys for the toy shop. Our testers, who were familiar with the older Piggy in Numberland title, found the activities to be engaging, and liked the fact that they could save their games or play with other children in the two-player activities. Riverdeep (The Learning Company), 319247-3325; www.learningco.com; Windows; $19.99. Ages 3-7.
Dora the Explorer: Backpack Adventure
Teaches: early math, reading, problem solving, visual discrimination. Dora steps out of the TV and into your classroom computer in this solid learning adventure. Children match shapes at the Troll Booth or guide a balloon through a maze by matching numbers in the Big Rock. Five activities (three levels each) do a nice job of providing basic pre-reading and math concepts, along with some Spanish vocabulary words. As children play, they earn stickers to use when decorating scenes from the program. The program has a nicely designed sign-in system that tracks progress for many children. Infogrames (GT Interactive), 425-485-1212; www.funkidsgames.com; Win/Mac; $19.95. Ages 3-5.
I Spy Junior: Puppet Playhouse
Teaches: logic, following directions, listening, early reading skills. Within a puppet-- show theme, there are four I Spy puzzles that tell little stories. One, for instance, is about a baby whale who is looking for his mother and includes rhymes such as, "I spy a hat, brown rope with a knot, two whale eyes, and a crab in a pot." Children find the mentioned objects and eventually help reunite the whales. Other activities include a puppet-making game where kids must listen and follow directions, a sorting game, and a Make Your Own I Spy activity. All in all, this is a likable program, perhaps a bit light on content, but great for zeroing in on listening and classification concepts. Scholastic Consumer Software, 800-770-4662; www.scholastic.com; Win/Mac; $19.95. Ages 3-5.
JumpStart Advanced Kindergarten
Teaches: early literacy, math, music, creativity, problem solving. In a kindergarten classroom-like setting, children find six early reading, math, music, and art activities. Letters are sounded out and assembled in phonics activities, objects are added and subtracted via soda bottles in a numbers game, and a flower garden is used as a basis for a sequencing activity. The drawing and music activities are both excellent, although in these pleasant activities the verbal feedback from the characters is a distraction. Knowledge Adventure, 877268-6197; unv. jumpstart.com; Win/Mac; $29.99. Ages 4-6. Eli
A FEW MORE TIPS ...
In your newsletter, talk about ways to extend a child's learning at home. A good handout is available online from the PTA (www.pta.org): "100 Ways for Parents to Be Involved in Their Child's Education." Create a column called "Every Day's a Field Trip" to illustrate how simple tasks can be great educational opportunities-parents can let children sort out the shopping list or turn trips to the supermarket into rhyming word hunts using food labels.
Another way to strengthen the home-school connection is to seek out and suggest appropriate software. There are many software activities to choose from, including those that provide "playful practice" with the school curriculum. Remind parents to keep things balanced by avoiding "junk food" activities. such as lengthy periods of TV time.
An active-learning scrapbook provides parents with "hard evidence" of how your curriculum is benefiting children. If you have a digital camera, you can download the photos to your computer and create the scrapbook there. Print out and photocopy the scrapbook and send one home to each family. (Or send home the scrapbook on disc for your "tech-savvy" families.)