Stephanie’s mother is frustrated. She was talking to her daughter on their way home from the setting and learned that the children spent the whole day playing. This is the third day in a row when Stephanie ‘hasn’t learnt’ at all! How does this relate to the teacher’s assurances that children learn something new every day?
Common understanding of expectations, as well as pedagogical goals and practices by ECE professionals and families is one of the basic conditions for providing children with a coherent and valuable developmental environment. Therefore, it is important to establish and maintain positive relations and ongoing communication with families.
What can help in establishing such relations?
- Get to know the needs of families
Research by Norwegian scientists suggests that the pedagogical culture of ECE settings for the youngest children meets the expectations of middle-class parents, while working-class families find it more difficult to identify with . This may lead to distancing and separation of working-class families and make their cooperation with professionals less effective. How to counteract this trend? Before the enrolment of a child staff may interview the parents about their expectations towards the setting. The interview should not only cover organizational issues, but also values that are important for the family. It is also a great opportunity to discuss with parents different ways of achieving the goals e.g., conversion of child-led activity into a learning-oriented one instead of reserving time restricted periods during the day for ‘teaching’. Preventing potential misunderstandings ahead may allow avoiding frustration of both parents and professionals within the course of their cooperation.
- Make the mission of the setting available
ECE professionals can enhance cooperation with families by providing a clear, written document defining the setting’s mission and philosophy underlying its pedagogical work [2, 3]. It is important that this document specifies among others the framework for setting and teachers’ work (including goals and operationalization examples), issues related to the role of families in shaping daily practices (defining the areas of responsibility of parents and staff) and explains the decision-making processes . To ensure that the rules of operation of the facility are known, understood and accepted by families, they may be discussed with parents before the child is enrolled. It is also important to ensure that relevant documents are available for families in both paper and online formats, as well as in the languages of all involved stakeholders.
- Establish two-ways channels of communication with families
Ongoing communication between professionals and families about organization of the setting’s work is one of the important aspects of their cooperation. Effective communication should allow for two-way exchange, more specifically both families and professionals should not only be able to provide each other with information, but also react to the received communication by giving an opinion, asking/answering a question .
In practice, teachers have a wide range of possibilities allowing for two-way communication including online solutions such as closed internet fora, or face-to-face ones, e.g. meetings. Responsibility for the communication process may be partially delegated to parents themselves for instance by organizing parent-to-parent telephone trees.
- Make parents profit from the cooperation
Professional support may positively influence the home learning environment of children. For example parents receiving assistants and guidance in terms of facilitating children’s literacy development are more likely to provide children with valuable experiences in this matter and in consequence children’s reading skills improve . Therefore cooperation with families should go beyond the operation of the setting and involve opportunities for parents to improve their own skills and knowledge. Teachers may, for example, make educational materials available to families, which will enable them to better understand children’s developmental processes, provide guidance on how to establish close positive relations or deal with their difficult behaviours. This approach is likely to make them more understanding and open for practices proposed by the staff.
Share with us the practices that have proven effective in your setting!
This blog post was contributed by Olga Wysłowska (University of Warsaw).
References: Stefansen, K., & Skogen, K. (2010). Selective identification, quiet distancing: Understanding the working-class response to the Nordic daycare model. Sociological Review, 58(4), 587–603.  Standardy opieki i edukacji dzieci do lat 3. (2019). Fundacja Rozwoju dzieci im. Komeńskiego. Retrieved from: www.najmlodsi.org.pl  Wysłowska. O., Pacholczyk-Sanfilippo. M., Lubomirska. K., (2020). Żłobki w wybranych krajach europejskich. Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, Warszawa.  Epstein, J. L., & Sanders, M. G. (2002). Family, school, and community partnerships. Handbook of parenting: Vol. 5. Practical issues in parenting, 407-437.  Epstein, J. L. (1991). Effects on student achievement of teacher practices of parent involvement. In S. Silvern (Ed.), Advances in reading/language research: literacy through family, community, and school interaction (Vol. 5, pp. 261–276). Greenwich, CT: JAI.