I went to college because I wanted to teach young children. I have always been much more comfortable singing silly songs, reading stories or playing with puppets in front of a class of 4-6 year olds than speaking to a group of eye-contact avoiding adults who are secretly checking their email messages. But still I felt responsible to share information with my Kindergarten parents about basic child development, how children really learn, and child management strategies; along with keeping them updated about what their child was learning and how they were progressing at school.
Parenting is very hard work, and many parents don’t have much support or easy access to information unless teachers of young children educate the parents too! Oprah Winfrey often says that when people know better, they do better. I think the best way to teach anything is to SHOW, not TELL. Parents who volunteered in my classroom sometimes told me that they learned a lot just by watching circle time, that was such a special thing to hear! Two or three times each year I asked every child to bring an adult to school for a half day. I called these Parent/Child Activity Days. They were always based on a theme and the activities the parents and children participated in covered lots of subject areas of our curriculum. First we went through some of our morning routines – calendar, morning message, etc. so parents could see what their children did each day. When I planned the activities I always included a cooking project, large motor play, reading and writing for a reason, constructive play, science experiments – including charting information, math games, art experiences, etc. By coming in to school and interacting with their child the parents could see how the children learned by doing. Over and over I would hear parents say “We could do this at home!” about an activity they particularly enjoyed with their child. Under the Theme section of my blog I have shared some of these parent/child activity days. I have a few more that I will still post. I loved these special days or evenings, and families told me they did too. But not all parents were able or willing to participate. I knew that I had to share information in lots of different ways.
The most basic thing I told my parents was to read to your child. You really can’t tell them this enough. I love this poem and often posted it where parents would see it.
There are lots of ways to encourage parents to read to their children. You could send home ideas of books children might love – especially around holiday gift giving times. You might want to include a little description or excerpt as well as giving them the titles and authors. You could attach a note with suggestions of good books along with book order forms. I found that when I read and reread a book – and it became a classroom favorite, many kids asked their parents for their own copy.
I sent books home as often as I could. I tried to set up a system of sharing books overnight that the children could manage independently – because I just never had time to check books in or out. Of course, you lose a few … but I think it’s worth it. I don’t remember where I got this list of 100 suggested books – I think it was from a public library.
Here is a copy if you would like to print it:
Just like everything else, you have to think through your motives – sometimes my goal was just to get parents to read wonderful, exciting, fun stories to their children. I wanted them all to fall in love with reading. Other times I wanted them to read simple, emergent stories with sight words that the children would recognize, or a repetitive pattern for the children to chime in. I wanted parents to understand different components of a read aloud – from left to right progression of print, using picture cues, making connections, understanding the story elements, and retelling main events. I knew that the more children are exposed to reading, the better readers they will be. Children are so lucky when they have parents who take the time to read with them. I tried to reinforce and encourage and praise parents as much as I could! I think it helps to acknowledge how busy they are, and how difficult finding time in their schedules can be.
Quite awhile ago I wrote a post about Kindergarten homework, I shared monthly read aloud game charts, and suggestions of things parents can do with their children through each month. Just search Kindergarten Homework if you would like to take a look. Along with those calendars and charts I also sent home information that might be helpful for parents. One year my professional goal was parent education, and that is when I developed these handouts. Much of the information I shared came from a class called Playful Literacy and You, by Dr. Kara Gregory. I tried to put some of her ideas into a form that might help parents of young children understand how children learn and things they can do to help. I sent one of these handouts home about once a month. The first year I used these I gave each parent a folder with a label on the front to collect these papers through the year. I was hoping that might make them value the information more, and even if they didn’t read it right away they might take a look at the folder later. I am happy to share these with you.
I wish you all a wonderful school year, filled with excited children who are ready to learn, and supportive parents who want to be partners with you in this terrific journey!