Friday, October 7, 2011

Partnering with Parents - Week 5

Our final Partnering with Parents guest blog post is by Stephanie and Erin. They are both early childhood teachers together at a public school early childhood center in Illinois. They both have classroom blogs where they share early education ideas and stories: Stephanie's Classroom Blog & Erin's Classroom Blog.  

They are going to focus on tips for parents of young children. Because they both work in special education, they are also including tips for reading with children with special needs. Between the two of them, they work with children of a variety of cognitive levels, special needs, school readiness, and development. Erin is the mama of twin 1 year olds, so the topic of reading with young children is near and dear to her heart personally as well as professionally. Stephanie doesn't have children of her own, however, the 29 she does have M-F and the young ones in her personal life have caused her to have a  great interest in helping parents.

In education, but especially in early childhood, it is the belief that parents are a child's first and most important teacher. When we meet out students, they have spent the last 3 years learning and growing because of the education they have received from their caregivers. We know that the parents of our students are trying their best to raise their children in the best way they know how. It is, however, important to us to help them along the way. We both believe strongly in communication and community with parents. A child's day in preschool is only 2 and a half hours long. We do the best we can to impact our students in those 150 minutes, but one of the most important things we can do is to be part of the team that is with the child the rest of the day. 

It is important to us to develop trusting relationships with families. Our classrooms are open and we believe that the parents of our students are just as important to their child's education as anyone at school with a specialized degree. Because we develop these relationships with our parents, they are open to the tips and ideas we share with them. 

Through our classroom blogs, notes, and weekly newsletters, we share with parents tips to help them interact with and promote literacy in their children. Our classroom blogs are an especially useful tool for reaching many parents. Our trick to get parents to regularly read our blogs? Post lots of pictures of their kids! Parents love to see pictures of their kids! And we love to share pictures with them (of course after getting permission signed at the beginning of the year). While we have the parents hooked in with the classroom blog, we use that opportunity to share what we have been doing in the room and tips for extending that learning at home. Though some of the families we serve do not have computers at home, many of the families are so motivated by seeing pictures of their children, they make an effort to use computers at the library or at houses of friends and family members. 

Another motivator for the parents is their kids! We share the slideshows at school with our students. In turn, they get excited to watch them and ask their parents to see them again at home. One student even said to Stephanie, "I know what you are going to do with those pictures! Put them on my computer!". By reminding the students we are going to post pictures on the computer, we are encouraging the students to encourage their parents to check it out at home on a regular basis.

When we are focusing on a specific book as a theme in the classroom, we will post literacy activities that can be done with their children at home. We also post ideas for discussion and expansion questions and topics. The internet is an amazing place and we often share relevant links with families to help them expand their knowledge base and ability to help their child develop literacy skills. In addition to books, songs and fingerplays are great early childhood literacy activities. We encourage this to be continued at home by videotaping the kids singing songs, posting videos of songs or fingerplays found on youtube, or sending home lyrics in our newsletters. Young children love to sing and by giving the parents the words, they can become active participants in this aspect of their child's learning.

Some of the tips that we share with parents about encouraging literacy skills:
  • It all starts with TALKING. Talk to your child as much as you can. The more you talk to your child, the more access to language he/she has. Talking about the mundane parts of everyday life gives your child more education than you can even imagine.
  • Point out words everywhere you go: grocery store, driving, watching TV, going for a walk. When you are driving, point out the letters in the McDonald's sign. When you are eating breakfast talk about the words on the Cheerios box. 
  • Teach kids the love of reading through example. Let them see you reading your own book. When you go to the doctor's office, bring a book for you and a book for your child. Or pick up a magazine and go through it together. 
  • Purposefully share with your child information you have learned from reading. "I read in the newspaper that it will be chilly today, let's find our coats" or "I read on the Walgreens sign that milk is on sale. We should stop there today and buy some."
  • Let your child experience all different types of reading: print, electronic, books, magazines, newspapers, signs, flyers, food boxes.
  • If your child isn't interested in books, find books about something your child is interested in. It is OK to read many books on one subject.
Some of the tips that we share with parents about reading with their children:
  • You should read with your child sitting in your lap at times and other times where he/she can see your face. It is important for children to see facial expressions and lip movement while reading. Reading is also a great time to bond with your child. You can do both!
  • Expand on the story when you are reading it. Point out things that you see while reading the book and relate them to your own experience. Ask open ended questions that get your child thinking. 
  • It is OK to read the same book over and over. Children like repetition and predictability. Through this children learn that words always say the same thing. No matter how many times you read them. They learn to connect the written word with spoken language. If you try to cheat, they may notice! That is a great developing skill!
  • Younger children may prefer books with rhyme and repetition. As they get older, they will start to sit longer and enjoy picture books with more of a plot.
  • Looking at photo albums can be a great literacy experience for toddlers or kids with special needs. Books don't have to have written words to encourage language. 
  • Write books about things you have done together. They can be simple words and drawings or include photographs. It can be as simple as a trip to the grocery store or as exciting as a trip to the zoo!
Some of the tips that we share with parents of children with special needs:
  • If your child isn't able to sit and attend to an activity, feel free to read to your child while he/she is swinging on a swing or moving around the room. 
  • It is great for them to hear the same story over and over if that is what they enjoy. You can expand on the stories by asking different questions or branching off into different topics each time. 
  • If a child becomes obsessed with a book, you can encourage expanding his/her reading by setting a first/then rule. "First we will read 5 Little Pumpkins, THEN we will read Brown Bear Brown Bear"
  • Add clipart of 1 important theme of the page to each page of the book to give your child a concrete idea of the point of the page. You can print off two of the same picture and as you read the book your child can match the pictures to participate in the reading process. 
  • With deaf and hard of hearing children, it is important that they can see your face and/or hands while you are reading to them. It does not mean, however, that if they occasionally want to sit in your lap while reading that they can't.
One of our new favorite websites that has digital picture books for free!

Keep reading and connecting with families!

Thank you so much Stephanie and Erin for your wonderful ideas! We loved getting an early educators perspective.  I, personally, loved how they showed how important it is to start literacy education as early as you can.  They also showed how easy it is to help your child from a very young age.  What a great way to finish our Partnering with Parents feature!

Have a good weekend!

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