An important aspect of building a learning community is offering all members an opportunity to contribute to the growth and advancement of the community. Contribution encourages ownership and pride in the work being done and creates feelings of connection to continued success. In an education learning community there are three main participants, children, educators, and parents. All of these members contribute to the success of the learning community and none can thrive without the others.
Of the members of the learning community, parents, often experience the most difficulty trying to participate in the partnership. In most instances, learning communities are set up to have parents play a secondary role. Parent’s primary roles are directed outward-juggling work, caring for a home, and raising children. Parenthood is a busy time of life and finding the time to participate in school activities could be more of a burden than a joy. How can early childhood educators assist parents in becoming a larger part of the learning community?
There are some simple ways parents can be invited into participation in the learning community. The ideas I am sharing are not the definitive list, but a conversation starter, a way for all of us to share how we invite parents to be part of school life while supporting a parent’s personal life journey.
All parents have skills and interests. As we get to know our parents we find they have a wealth of talents and skills. Are your parents willing to share these gifts with the learning community? What skills can your parents offer to the learning community? An example of this idea during my teaching career, involves inviting parents with construction skills to build new structures in the outdoor classroom. The parents who participated created garden beds, play houses, fencing, tables, benches, and much more. Most of these projects involved the children, who were invited to participate and learn about the work being done for the school.
Projects that parents participate in for pleasure are great resources for sharing with the learning community. Many parents love music and play instruments. This creates an opportunity for parents to visit the school and share their interest with the children. Just recently we invited different musicians to visit and share drums, guitar, and string instruments. The children loved the experience, had plenty of questions, and might be inspired to play music in the future.
Our role as educators is to create an environment where all members of the learning community feel welcome in the school. Parents need to know they are welcome to drop by the school at any time and participate in the work of the children. Parents should be welcomed to come and observe the work, prepare materials, read to children, and participate in the work. I think one of our fears is that parents will interfere or be critical of our practice. Like any member of the learning community parents will learn how to collaborate in the methods that the school values for teaching children. It may take some discussion and on going education but the value of having more parents in the program grows the learning community.
Having the school act as a social hub is important in building the learning community. Parents often feel that the only way to contribute to the school is by some concrete action like the ideas mentioned earlier. Being a part of the social structure of the school, being present, is a great way for busy parents to be in the learning community. Having social evenings with some coffee, snacks, conversation, and a small presentation once a month goes a long way in making parents feel a part of the school. Sharing an update of the children’s projects, documentation, and a few stories will make parents feel part of the life of the school. Not all parents will participate each time but having events more frequently offers parents the opportunity to connect when they are available.
These are just a few ideas to help engage parents in the learning community. All schools feature different levels of participation and opportunity for parents but it is important to reach out and bring in one of the vital members of the learning community. Most parents want to participate and know more about their child’s educational experiences, but parents get so busy they just can’t find the way. Extend an invitation, an opportunity, a smile, and a story that help a parent feel as important as they are to the success of the learning community.
How are parents involved in your learning community?