While public recognition of the value of early childhood education has been gradually shifting in the U.S., there’s still a general lack of understanding about how important early educators are. If you’ve ever had someone say, “Oh, so you play with kids all day,” when they learn you work in early education, you’ve probably experienced the frustration this lack of understanding breeds. While play is a hugely important component of any day spent with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, we know there’s so much more to it.
On the opposite side of the coin, have you ever been in a parent conference where you’ve just had the pleasure of sharing all about a child’s growing independence in navigating social conflict, only to have a parent follow up with, “So, when will my three-year-old read?” If so, then you understand how common it is for parents to dismiss the importance of foundational skills and knowledge. Yes, reading matters. And yes, that child will read when they are ready. But all of the earlier, more age-appropriate skills children are learning (social-emotional, physical, cognitive) lay the critical foundation for future academic learning.
Generally, these attitudes toward early learning aren’t meant as a slight; they simply come from misunderstanding. This is where we, as early educators, can benefit from sharing our knowledge with the broader world, starting with our parents!
Set expectations for the year
At the start of the year, whether it’s at a back-to-school night or just in an introductory newsletter, share what your goals are for your classroom for the year. You know what the most important skills and milestones are for the age group you’re teaching. Outline these for your parents, as well as some of the ways you’ll be supporting this development in the classroom.
You might also share what learning won’t look like. It can sometimes feel like parents are overly focused on “academic” content, and whether or not they realize it, they have expectations for what that will look like. For example, they may have memories of sitting down to do worksheets in their early years of education. If worksheets are not part of your curriculum, it’s important to share that with parents—including why. Most adults just aren’t familiar with the foundational skills required for future activities like reading and writing. You’re the expert, and they’ll appreciate hearing it from you.
Share learning on a daily basis
Are you using an app to communicate with your parents yet? You should be! Whatever your chosen form of daily communication is, use it to showcase the learning that’s happening. Use the captions in pictures to share some quick details about the learning taking place. To an untrained eye, a child sitting at a table with play dough is just playing, but you know that child is building important hand muscles required to hold a pencil, is practicing symbolic thought, and might even be working through some big and frustrating emotions. Writing up a quick caption to the photo can convey this to parents.
In the brightwheel app, it’s easy to share photos with parents and add notes about the skills children are learning throughout the day.
As with learning anything new, you can’t expect parents to see it once and get it. Making a habit of sharing details about learning will give your parents the repeat exposure required to understand.
Share learning in parent conferences
After so many hurried playground conversations at pick-up, it can feel like a luxury to have uninterrupted time to speak with parents during conferences. Ideally, you’ll have the opportunity to meet with parents at least twice a year: once at the beginning of the year, and once in the late winter/early spring.
Your fall conferences might feel more informal—they’re a chance to get to know the parents a bit better, reiterate your goals for the year, and allow parents to ask you any questions they have. Taking the time to build a relationship with each of your families right from the start will benefit you all year, making it easier to have potentially sensitive conversations about their child’s development.
The focus of your spring conference should be on each individual child’s learning and development. You’ve been sharing photos and anecdotes all year, and now is the opportunity to pull it together into a full portrait.
If you’ve completed a developmental assessment that can be a good starting point for the conversation. Share the strengths as well as the areas of growth you see. If there are areas where a child needs additional support, share what you’re doing in the classroom and ways parents can create continuity at home.
Include an assortment of work samples as well, whether in a digital portfolio or physical one. There’s no more concrete way to see a child’s ongoing development than showing the progression of their drawings, building projects, and storytelling. It might be harder to showcase some of the softer skills (like independence and social/emotional skills), but photos or video clips can often accomplish this.
As educators, we know that the learning isn’t limited to just what happens at Circle Time. Kids are learning when they line up to go to the bathroom, they’re learning when they sit and talk to their neighbor at snack time, and they’re learning when they dump leaves down the slide. Part of our job is to make this learning visible to the adults around us so they can better see the same magic that we see. When we do so, we’re helping them recognize that while play is learning, it’s also so much more than that.
Brightwheel makes it easy to keep parents in the loop about what their children are learning.
- Parent messaging: send messages to parents individually, by room, or to all parents in the program at once.
- Student activities: keep parents updated in real time with photos, videos, and milestone observations. You can also use student activity feeds as helpful references during parent conferences.
- Newsletters: share student activity photos and curriculum updates through newsletters.
For more stress-free ways to keep parents engaged with your center, check out our parent communication toolkit! It's chock-full of templates, tipsheets, and other resources to help you delight families throughout the school year.
Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at www.mybrightwheel.com.