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Parent Involvement and Participation
The Key to a Successful Home/School Connection

by Cathy Abraham

Input, feedback and participation from families is the foundation upon which a successful center is built. When parents are invested and involved in the center where their child(ren) attend, everyone benefits.

Often parents want to be more involved in their child's center, but do not know how exactly to contribute. Many times they just need an invitation and to know that their involvement is welcome and valued.

Parents and families have much to offer, and can often enrich our program in ways we never even thought of! It is key to be open, flexible, and creative in providing opportunities to contribute. We need to think in family-friendly and non-traditional ways. Due to varying work situations, not everyone can volunteer as a Room Mother or as a field trip chaperone nor is that role a good fit for all parents. Contributions and involvement can be as diverse as the families you serve.

Don't deny parents and children this valuable experience!

BENEFITS FOR PARENTS:
- increased comfort level with care and heightened sense of security
- creates an additional support system
- opportunity to interact and socialize with other parents
- promotes a feeling of being a part of something - provides more knowledge of the day-to-day experiences of their child(ren)
- fosters a sense of purpose or value, and a way to contribute
- validates their role as a parent
- gives parents a sense of ownership in the program
- fosters a team feeling
- an outlet for talents or skills, sometimes left untapped
- provides learning opportunities

BENEFITS FOR THE CENTER:
- increases resources available
- promotes open communication
- increases parent satisfaction, impacting retention
- provides an opportunity to keep in touch with parent needs and concerns
- creates relationships, and a sense of extended family
- decreases work load when projects can be delegated
- offers parents insight as to what we do
- staff members feel supported
- parents are more open when (or if) issues arise
- more investment in the overall success of the center
- provides a venue for recognizing all cultures and family structures

BENEFITS FOR CHILDREN:
- models for children that school is important and valued
- provides additional language and conversation opportunities
- children are given the message that parents and teachers are on the same page, and are working together for their benefit
- decreases miscommunication between parents and staff
- fosters a strong home/school connection
- reinforces that school is a positive place
- gives children a sense that they are important

Tips for Promoting Successful Family Involvement
- Create situations in which parents can be successful. Try to match skills and availability to opportunities to contribute. Provide them with any tools they will need.
- Discourage a small click from doing everything. This climate makes many people shy away. Make a point of inviting and including others at every turn, and being inclusive.
- Thank parents for their efforts and let them know that their participation is important.
- Create an open environment in which parents feel comfortable speaking with you, and in spending time in your office.
- Ask the parent how they would like to be referred to. (Mrs. Smith? Carol?)
- Introduce parents to each other at events.
- Be on the look out for the special talents or skills parents may have!
- Eliminate any barriers preventing attendance or participation at Family events. (child care, transportation, cost, time of day, sibling care, etc.)
- If children are from a non-traditional family structure, and have more than one home , make efforts to inform everyone of upcoming events. Convey acceptance for all kinds of diverse family compositions. (Don't forget to send out Reminders !!!)
- Respectfully explain at the onset about confidentiality, and set the tone. Some parents may work in professions that do not deal within this framework, and may be unaware of inappropriate topics or questions about other parents, staff, or children. (Always get permission before giving out contact information. Even if a parent volunteers to be on a committee, they need to give specific permission to give out their phone number.)
- Determine whether children should be present while parent is working on a center-related project. (Many times parents think they are doing you a favor by pulling their child out of the classroom and then the child ends up running wild while the parent is working on the project.)
- Reinforce efforts and contributions. Have a Thank you section in your newsletter or a bulletin board recognizing parents. Write personal thank you notes.
- Remember some parents may not be at a place, for whatever reason, in which they can contribute. Respect the fact that we have many parents that are overwhelmed and struggle just to get through the day. Do not make them feel guilty or judged.
- Often you will need to serve as the facilitator with parent projects or events at least initially. Outline for parents what pieces they can do, and things you (or the center) should do. Be aware of boundaries.
- Acknowledge and convey respect for parents in their role as their child's first and most important teacher. Ensure that your staff consistently do so as well.
- Ask parents directly for what you would like for them to do or assist with. Often people do not feel qualified or that someone else will do it.
- Appropriately address and mediate conflict or power struggles before they escalate. Remind people that we are all on the same team... and we all want the same things.



TWO SCULPTORS
Author Unknown

I dreamed I stood in a studio
and watched two sculptors there,
The clay they used was a young child's mind,
and they fashioned it with care.

One was a teacher,
the tools he used were books, music, and art;
One was a parent,
who worked with a guiding hand, and a gentle, loving heart.

Day after day the teacher toiled,
with a touch that was deft and sure.
While the parent labored by her side
and polished and smoothed it o'er.

And then at last their task was done,
They were proud of what they had wrought,
for the things they had molded into the child
could never be sold or bought.

And each agreed they would have failed
if he had worked alone,
For behind the teacher stood the school
and behind the parent, the home.



About the Author:
Cathy Abraham has worked in the early childhood field for 25 years. She is currently a consultant, curriculum writer and trainer. Cathy can be reached at childcarediva@aol.com.
.


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