One of the most difficult things for the parent of a preschool child is leaving their child for those first few days of preschool. Often these times of separation are as hard or harder on the parent than they are on the child. The child may be upset, but is generally pretty quickly engaged with other children and activities, whereas the parent may continue thinking about the departure for some time. As an early childhood educator, we have the opportunity to try to make this as smooth of a transition as possible for all involved. Many times the unknown can be scarier than the reality of a situation. By sharing information and making families feel welcome, some of the scariness can be lessened.
Some families choose to visit the program in the spring prior to enrolling. This is a good opportunity for them (parent(s) and child) to see the natural progression of the day of children that are completing either their first or second year of preschool. It’s a chance for them to ask questions and for the child to engage with future peers. However, not all families make the early preschool visit and some of them enroll through our enrollment office without visiting first.
Prior to the school year starting I try to connect with each family by sending them a Welcome Letter. The letter includes an introduction, information about our first day mini class and what we will do during that time, information about regular school days, and contact information, should they have questions prior to the first day. I send a Welcome Letter to returning students that is a little different from the one going to new students. This is a sample from last year.
I also include a parent questionnaire and ask them to complete it and return it to me on the first day of school. It requests information about the child’s interactions with siblings, favorite toys, favorite and least favorite activities, pets, parent goals, needs/requests, etc.
When families arrive on our first day for our mini day orientation I greet them and give them a “treasure hunt” form with a checklist of activities and observations to do inside and outside the classroom. While children do an art masterpiece at a table, I go over paperwork and address any questions/concerns parents may have. We also take a photo of the family that will be placed on an apple image and put on our apple “family” tree in our reading loft, which stays there all year. Just like the Welcome Letter, the Treasure Hunt form is a little different for new students as it is for returning students.
Part of our Parent Board postings include a photo of each staff member with personal information about our families, pets, education, favorites, aspirations, and favorite quotes at the beginning of the year. This gives the families the opportunity to learn a little about us. The Parent Board also includes the daily schedule, the weekly lesson plan, the monthly calendar, the monthly lunch menu, the yearly school calendar, and more.
We love having parents, grandparents, etc. volunteer to help in our classroom. Part of the first day paperwork includes a Volunteer Survey where they may share ideas, hobbies, and interests that may coincide with our program. On this form they are welcome to let us know when they would like to volunteer if it will be on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and if they would like to work on projects at home. Prior to a person volunteering, they read over our volunteer policies pertaining to confidentiality and best practices and sign a statement agreeing to adhere to these policies.
Once we begin our regular school schedule, we request families to encourage their child as he/she signs in for the day and help them engage in play. We have a “goodbye window” and we strongly encourage families to make sure their child knows when they are leaving and as the child stands at the window, to wave goodbye before they leave.
I take thousands of photos during the school year. This past year we invested in a digital picture frame that I periodically change with current photos. We keep it on the parent table, so families are able to view these images as they sign in and out each day. It’s a great way for the families to see the daily goings on of our program when they aren’t able to be there and many times it serves as a conversation starter as children are prompted of memories of an event as they see them on the screen.
I want families to know that I acknowledge that they are their child’s first teacher and my goal is not to replace them, but to partner with them on this journey. One book that I read the summer prior to teaching my first class made a lasting impression on me and is one that I would strongly recommend all early childhood educators read. It’s called From Parents to Partners by Janis Keyser. http://www.amazon.com/From-Parents-Partners-Family-Centered-Childhood/dp/1929610882
The preschool class turns strangers into family. The environment should be warm and welcoming and all should feel that they belong. The staff should be supportive and encouraging. We have a tremendous opportunity as we are the very beginning of the educational process. We have the opportunity to instill a love of learning that can be nurtured and empowered to grow into something truly beautiful. What an honor, privilege, and responsibility; what a gift.
All the best to you as you begin your new school year!!