ERIC Identifier: ED342463
Publication Date: 1991-00-00
Author: Coleman, Mick
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Planning for Parent Participation in Schools for Young
Children. ERIC Digest.
Family and school represent the primary environments in which young children
grow and develop. Today, the link between these institutions is taking on added
significance as concern mounts over the challenges that preschools face in
building or maintaining strong parent participation. In order to effectively
meet the needs of all families, parent participation programs need to give equal
consideration to the needs of all families represented in the class. Teachers
can plan parent participation strategies for their own classroom through use of
the following guides.
PLAN FOR PARENT PARTICIPATION
1. A good place to begin is
to document the barriers to parent involvement created by such factors as family
structures (dual career, single parent, teenage parent) and family work
schedules (full-time, job sharing, flex-time). This can be accomplished through
parent-teacher conferences, telephone calls, or a short questionnaire.
Documentation of the barriers to parent participation can be used to develop
policies that are likely to work with the parent community. For example, more
options may be needed as to when parent-teacher conferences are held (before,
during, and after school), how they are held (face-to-face, by telephone, by
computer, in small groups), or where they are held (at the school, in the home,
at a neighborhood center, or at the parent's place of employment).
2. Recommendations for parent participation should take into account the
resources and expertise of parents. Care should be taken to offer parents a
range of support, partnership, and leadership roles. Parents can participate by
preparing classroom materials, serving on a committee to select classroom
equipment and materials, or becoming a member of a search committee to select
personnel. Participation can even extend to parents' leading classroom
activities in which they have expertise.
3. Teachers can include topics that relate to both classroom and family
environments when they develop informational newsletters, public relations
material, and parent meetings. Family strengths, parent-child communication,
childhood stress, and in-home safety all have the potential to affect children's
classroom behavior. Of equal importance is the effect of these topics on family
well-being. Schools can meet their objectives and serve the interests and needs
of families by offering information and educational programs that give parents
practical suggestions on topics like these and others.
4. Plan ahead for parent-teacher conferences. Communicate to parents at the
beginning of the year about school policies and services. Inform parents about
classroom goals for the year, and give a few examples of what children will be
learning. Also let parents know about the frequency and nature of parent-teacher
conferences. Once conferences are set, keep a calendar of when, how, and where
family contacts are to be made.
5. For some parents, education today is quite different from what they
experienced two or three decades ago. Fear of the unknown may be one reason that
parents avoid contact with their child's school. For other parents, school may
be intimidating because it reminds them of an unpleasant school experience.
Empower parents with confidence by supplying them with a list of questions they
can ask teachers throughout the school year.
6. Create a comfortable conference environment in which parents feel free to
share information, ask questions, and make recommendations. Allowing parents to
begin the conference by asking their own questions and expressing their own
concerns is one way to convey respect for their input. Here are some other ways
to share responsibility with parents during the conference:
*Schedule an adequate amount of time for the conference so that the parent
does not feel rushed.
*If the conference is held at the school, point out to the parent the
projects that involved his or her child.
*Begin and end the conference by noting something positive about the child.
*Ask open-ended questions ("How do you help your child with her shyness?")
instead of "yes" or "no" questions ("Do you help your child with her shyness?").
*Communicate in a way that matches, yet shows respect for, the parent's
background. Be careful not to make assumptions about a parent's level of
knowledge or understanding, and avoid talking down to parents.
*Send nonverbal messages of respect and interest. Sit facing the parent and
maintain good eye-contact. Put aside paperwork and postpone taking notes until
after the conference has ended.
*Instead of offering advice, ask the parent to share feelings and suggestions
for addressing an issue. Then offer your own input as a basis for negotiation.
7. Limit the number of educational objectives set during the parent-teacher
conference to those that can reasonably be addressed in a specified time. Break
each objective down into simple steps. Assign parents and teachers
responsibilities for meeting each objective in the class and home. Plan a
strategy for evaluating the objectives from both the parents' and teacher's
8. Follow up the parent-teacher conference with a brief note thanking the
parents for their participation. This is also a good opportunity to summarize
major points discussed during the conference.
PLAN FOR MULTICULTURAL PARENT PARTICIPATION
1. Seek advice
and assistance from parents in introducing young children to various cultures
through the use of stories, holidays, art exhibits, fairs, plays, and other
events. Always include in any discussion of cultural differences the ways in
which such values as honesty, fairness, loyalty, and industry are shared by all
2. Avoid making sweeping generalizations about children from different family
backgrounds. For example, it has been suggested that a highly structured and
verbal-based curriculum is at odds with the nonverbal, people-oriented, and
individualistic values found in the cultural background of Black children
(Hale-Benson, 1982). Modeling and imitation has been suggested as a big part of
the learning process for Hispanic children (Hadley, 1987). In contrast, it has
been suggested that a structured curriculum would perhaps be most appropriate
for Vietnamese children who are taught to value obedience and dependence (Bowman
& Brady, 1982). It is unlikely that the authors of these studies meant for
their suggestions to hold for all children from Black, Hispanic, or Vietnamese
families. Balance general cultural differences with an assessment of the
individual child, and of the child's family and neighborhood environments.
Otherwise, sweeping generalizations about children may be based on superficial
group characteristics (for example, color of skin or language spoken) rather
than on individual strengths and needs.
3. Periodically review social networks among children. Do certain children
segregate themselves through their choice of toys, activities, or play? This
issue is an important one, because, as Karnes and her colleagues (1983) found,
children from low-income families who are placed in middle-class preschool
programs can still be segregated from their peers during classroom activities.
Teachers can help all children share classroom experiences by encouraging those
children with similar interests to play together or work together on a special
project. Children's assignments to small group activities can be periodically
rotated to ensure that the children have many opportunities to learn about and
from all their classroom peers.
As American families continue to change,
programs for young children will need to adopt parent participation programs
that reinforce a consistency of early growth and development experiences between
children's family and classroom environments. Strong linkages between the school
and the home can be ensured when teachers are routinely allowed the time and
resources to discuss the impact on school-home relations of the diversity of
family structures, backgrounds, and lifestyles found in their classrooms; and
develop a range of strategies by which they can involve all families of the
young children they teach.
This digest was adapted from the article, "Planning for the Changing Nature
of Family Life in Schools for Young Children," by Mick Coleman, which appeared
in YOUNG CHILDREN, Vol. 46, No. 4 (May, 1991): pp. 15-20.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bowman, B., and Brady, E.H. (Eds.). "Today's Issues: Tomorrow's Possibilities." In S. Hill and B.J. Barnes, YOUNG
CHILDREN AND THEIR FAMILIES: NEEDS OF THE NINETIES (pp. 207-217). Lexington, MA:
Lexington Books, 1982.
Hadley, N. "Reaching Migrant Preschoolers." CHILDREN'S ADVOCATE, Vol. 14
Hale-Benson, J. BLACK CHILDREN: THEIR ROOTS, CULTURE, AND LEARNING STYLES
(Rev. Ed.). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982.
Karnes, M.B., Shwedel, A.M., and Williams, M.B. "A Comparison of Five
Approaches for Educating Young Children from Low-Income Homes." In Consortium
for Longitudinal Studies (Ed.). AS THE TWIG IS BENT: LASTING EFFECTS OF
PRESCHOOL PROGRAMS (pp. 133-169). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1983.
Powell, Douglas R. FAMILIES AND EARLY CHILDHOOD PROGRAMS. RESEARCH MONOGRAPHS OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE EDUCATION OF YOUNG CHILDREN, Vol. 3. Washington, DC: NAEYC, 1989.