We’ve seen schools and communities co-create their responses to this crisis. Schools are stepping up to partner with local organizations to provide devices and internet access for all children. This is amazing to watch. I hope that one positive outcome from this crisis is that connectivity will exist for all communities, and schools will be less wary of sending home devices to all children. With those partnerships in place, we can focus on teachers and caregivers co-designing solutions to support each child, and parents and children can co-create learning throughout their days.
Parents and children co-creating their days
Knowing what to expect helps young children to thrive. The very best teachers build and practice routines. They also incorporate real-life connections into daily learning activities with their classes. This can be challenging when you have 25 kids in a classroom, and actually has the potential to be a bit easier as a parent or caregiver. You can start by talking about all the things you’re doing on a given day, planning a schedule together, and engaging your children in many of those daily experiences. For preschoolers, making a list, helping to cook, cleaning up, or taking a walk can all provide learning opportunities. Most importantly, keep talking while you do all of these things!
Parents don’t have to make all the decisions. I’m a mother myself, and sometimes in my rush to respond to a situation, I want to dictate how things should be. If parents and caregivers stop for a moment and collaborate with their children, they may reach a much more viable solution. Children are natural researchers and can surprise us with awesome solutions and ideas!
It’s natural for some parents to feel intimidated at the prospect of playing the role of teacher, but for 3- and 4-year-olds, the concepts can be simple. When families understand the concepts their children need to learn, they are better able to support them. Before students learn that there’s an alphabet and every letter is a code that represents a sound, they have to recognize and differentiate sounds. Parents can teach this skill by talking about words that start with the same sound or end in the same sound, reading nursery rhymes, or just noticing letters and words every day. They can practice recognizing letters, naming letters, and then matching the sounds that go with each letter.
To help parents teach their kids literacy, math, and science, Waterford.org offers a number of no-cost resources, including what we call Waterford Early Learning Boosts. Parents who sign up get an email every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, including a lesson, a video, or a resource created by our team. All of these materials are available in English or Spanish. Parents can also access our YouTube channel, which includes free learning videos that give young learners the opportunity to practice songs about foundational concepts like the alphabet or counting. The goal of all of these resources is the same: to support parents’ role as their children’s first teacher.
Schools and parents co-creating a community
In Waterford.org’s research into families, we look at parental involvement in three phases: involvement, engagement, and empowerment. Family involvement is the first step. In the involvement phase, schools encourage families to engage in the events such as PTA meetings. A school might measure attendance at meetings or conferences as evidence of involvement. Family engagement is the second step, and provides opportunities for families to not just attend but also to contribute to the school activities. This might be measured in the number of people who volunteer throughout the year. Family empowerment is harder to measure and accomplish. Empowerment happens when parents have a voice in designing the mission as well as the ways in which the mission is implemented in a school community. Family empowerment requires a continuous cycle of reflection, adaptation, and learning together.
School communities with empowered families ask questions such as: How can we best build relationships with families to determine how to support their needs? Do families want student-led conferences, teacher-led conferences, or a combination? What are the clubs that families feel their students would benefit from, and who among the community could help run those clubs? What are the strengths of our community, and how can we magnify these assets?
Years of research support the influence families and school personnel have on children and adolescents, but when families and caregivers move from being engaged to empowered, to having influence over the decisions that are made for children in their community and school, the collaboration becomes exponentially more powerful. Everyone involved in education is facing a great deal of uncertainty right now, so more than ever, we need to co-create solutions and design educational experiences and solutions together.
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