by Ted Maple, President & CEO of Early Learning Indiana
Parents often ask each other: “Where do (or did) you send your child to preschool?” It’s a strangely impersonal question for such a personal decision. My wife and I have three sons. We didn’t send them anywhere. (Maybe there are boarding schools for preschoolers, but none were on our radar.) We choose a preschool program we could join. We wanted to be part of our children’s early childhood education. Most parents do. Good preschools and good teachers recognize this. Good policy supports it.
At Early Learning Indiana, and in communities all around our state, we’ve been talking a lot about preschool. Quality preschool is a critical part of a child’s education. One critical component to a quality preschool program is family engagement. Early childhood programs should be warm, welcoming places for families. Support them. Communicate with them. Involve them in the magic that happens in the classroom. Of course, these things are key to great partnerships with parents. But look under the hood of a program that is really good at parent engagement and you see some things that stand out.
- Parents smile when they walk in the door because they feel good about being there – and about dropping their children there for the day. They feel valued because teachers and staff value them.
- Teachers and staff ask parents about their children and seek their input – and parents reciprocate. Good teachers know a lot about child development. Great teachers understand parents know a lot about their children.
- Children talk about school in the evening because teachers and parents are intentional about connecting the home and classroom. This comes from great communication and idea sharing.
- Families are empowered to share in the leadership of the preschool program. They serve on boards and committees or are simply asked for input on how to make the program better.
- Preschool programs support families beyond the classroom. They connect families to resources and services. They help with the transition to kindergarten. They are there for children and families even after they leave.
Teachers and programs aren’t perfect. As a former teacher, I remember sometimes thinking about parents as an afterthought. It’s easy to do when young children demand and deserve so much of your attention, time and effort. However, when I remembered to include and engage families in the work I did as a teacher, I realized that things got much easier and much better. I had partners. We worked together, as parents and teachers do all over our state, toward a common goal: helping children build a bright future supported by great learning in the school and the home.