Early childhood programs offer many opportunities for families to become involved. Parent nights, potluck dinners, field trips, workshops, volunteering, submitting family photos, providing classroom materials, and the exchange of information at the beginning and the close of the day are just a few of the many ways parents and staff can share information and insights.
Some parents may choose not to participate in any of these events. As you make efforts to get to know them, it's important to try to understand the reasons why they choose not to be involved. Here are some things to consider:
- Some parents may be highly stressed about work or other family responsibilities. If you have not identified parent support groups in your community, think about providing one. An evening with a group leader, a light dinner, and childcare can provide much-needed support for the families in your program.
- You may discover some parents think school is your job, parenting is their job, and that you do not share those roles. They are content with your program and they do not see themselves as collaborators in their child's learning. While it's satisfying to know that they're happy with your program, a closer relationship would offer greater support for their child. During a meeting with the parents, you might provide take-home materials that describe the role they play in their child's educational experiences. (See list of parent-involvement brochures from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, below.)
- Some parents are not aware of the important skills children acquire prior to kindergarten and that these skills provide the foundation for learning in elementary school. Take-home materials describing the skills children develop in your program can be helpful to parents, as can a list of the specific skills expected by kindergarten teachers in your school district.
- Parents who may be intimidated by the school setting need some additional coaxing. They may have had negative school experiences of their own. In some cases, they may not feel that they speak English well enough to communicate with you. These parents may want to be involved, but are uncertain how. By working with parents slowly, you will find a way that works for both of you.
We are not always successful in our work with parents. Sometimes it's difficult to get the level of involvement we're looking for, despite our efforts. Keep in mind the importance of respecting parents' choices, while continuing to provide opportunities for them to be engaged in the program.