Parents: The First Educators of a Child

lee longoAs a director of a pre-school I have the opportunity to meet and greet families each morning at drop off and pick up times. I have witnessed parents in a rush to get to work and also wishing to have a meaningful good bye with their child without incident. Many times, I hear it was a difficult morning getting them to dress, eat and get out the door. Traffic, early morning meetings at their jobs, and many questions and concerns over developmental issues can add to a parent’s stress. For young families this can be the first time they are in a school setting with their child. This alone is a stressful situation and at times I hear some parents struggle with the guilt of leaving their child with strangers.

First, we must acknowledge that today’s families are quite different than the traditional families of years ago. Many do not have extended family support and most often families live far from their extended families. In many homes, both parents work, and children are in a school setting for several hours a day. With all of these obstacles, how can we help children be successful in school and develop a love for learning? One of the first ways which I believe is the most important, is to support families and help them become co-educators with the teacher. In the Reggio Emilia Philosophy of education, Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of this Philosophy, believes that there are three teachers in the education of a child. The first teacher is the Parent, the second teacher is the Classroom teacher and the third teacher is the Environment.

Research shows that some of the most important cognitive development happens during the pre-school years, and that nearly half of a child’s achievement in school can be accounted for by factors outside of school, significantly the parental support of education.

Many of us can remember maybe one or two great teachers but parents are the first educators of their child, and they are the most important influence on the child. Therefore, teachers must extend their role as caregivers and educators to include and support families working together for the developmental growth of the child. How is this achieved? This critical collaboration takes two. Teachers must be open to and encourage parent engagement and parents must become and want to be engaged. Engagement is different than involvement, simply put engagement is parents and staff working together, coming up with ways to extend the learning, and involvement is participation in school directed activities.

What can parents do at the pre-school level to be co-educators with their child’s teacher when they themselves are working parents and facing so many obstacles?

Many pre-schools have a child questionnaire that parents fill out at the beginning of the year. We ask parents to be as thorough and honest as they can. They have important information that the teacher may not know and communication between them can help to enrich a student’s learning process.

For example, if a changed behavior is seen at home discuss this with your child’s teacher. Establish a relationship with the teacher and the school director. If you know of ways that can enhance the learning speak with the teacher about your ideas. Sometimes just reaching out to teacher opens the dialogue. Volunteer if you can, and if you can’t you can still contribute. It can be as easy as collecting house hold items for the class with your child. Share your holiday traditions, foods and experiences or something special you may have done on the weekend together through pictures, that can be sent in with your child. Build something the classroom might need. Read to your child’s class. Attend a field trip if you can. Cook something with your child to share with the class. Meet the other parents in your child’s class; you have a lot in common just by having children the same age and you can form bonds and exchange information. One of my dearest friends I met when my son was in pre-school, even though our lives took different paths and our children no longer attended the same schools, we connected and have remained friends for almost 30 years.

Children thrive when they see their parents engaged. Just like adults we feel valued when our partners and loved ones take an interest in our jobs or how our day went. School is your child’s work. These positive connections between home and school show your child that you value what they are doing when you are apart from them. In our school our teachers are required to find ways that their parents can be engaged whether they work outside the home or not. Parents are valued and our belief is that parents are co-educators with us.

The pre-school years are a short time in a child’s life and an important time when you want to foster their love for learning. Find the right program for your child where you all feel valued and you can contribute even though you may work. This is an important time for your child and your family.