Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What should we ask our families?

I love my work at cooperative preschools. Here, parents take turns assisting the teacher in the classroom. I thoroughly enjoy the dynamic nature of parents, teachers, and children learning together; each day is different, each year brings new rewards.

Before the year begins, it is important that I get to know the families. Some schools have the delightful ritual of home visits - wherein the teacher actually spends time with each family at their residence, learning about the child. I send a questionnaire to the families, asking specifically about parents' names, occupations, special interests, talents, and skills. I also ask about siblings and any relatives or friends living in their home or who are a big part of the children's lives. These basic pieces of information help "anchor" many a conversation that I will have with the children during the school year - I hear about parents going on travel, fights with siblings, big family parties, and so on. How nice to have a grasp of everyone's names!

I think it is also important to know if there any special holidays or traditions that a family celebrates, and, conversely, is there any holiday, event, or subject that they would be uncomfortable with their child learning about or participating in? We are a secular school program - but many families have strong religious or cultural traditions. Rightly so, children know and cherish their own family's traditions, and will chat and share about these openly, so it becomes important for me to be aware of these as well.

The more information I have about the child at the outset of the year, the better. Preschool children usually do not enter school systems with "records" - parents are the best reservoir of all information. I have tremendous respect for all they can share with me about their little one. Several things I would love to know about the child before that first day of school are:

1) What are your child's favorite interests?. This answer actually builds my September "welcome to school" books and toys - if a little one loves Thomas the Tank Engine, I make sure there is a book on the shelf. If a little one is obsessed with princesses, I make sure there are royal gown dressups in the dramatic play area. This is how you build trust in a new relationship - hearing and respecting!

2) What are your hopes for your child this year? Sending a child off to his/her very first preschool is often fraught with anxiety...how much better to consider the positive - what do you hope for? I love reading these responses. And they guide me. I revisit this answer at the parent-teacher conferences later in the year.

3) What is the best way to comfort your child? This is so essential - some children freak out at a hug from others, many feel comforted by nestling in someone's lap. It's important to know how to approach the little one, since those first days are fraught with confused feelings and tears.

It bears repeating - parents are the first and best teachers for a child. Let's work together!

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