All this talk about children being capable, competent, whole human beings, teachers being observant facilitators and researchers and even our environment being considered the third teacher – but rarely do we discuss parents and other family members. I am not sure why parents can be a hot topic. I often get asked how we manage to have a classroom like we do, without parents “getting in the way”. I get told that parents just don’t get it, that they focus too much on things like safety and learning.
It’s strange to say this but…parents are competent too!
A goal I had for myself this year was to develop strong family relations and I am proud to say I have reached that goal. How? Simply by changing my thinking. Parents aren’t scary. They are human, just like you and I.
I don’t get nervous talking to my co-workers, friends, family members or even strangers about holidays, anti-bias, teaching approaches, how children thrive, or any other topic of conversation needed in a classroom environment. So why do we get so nervous to breech these topics with families?
We talked a lot this year about holidays and what and how we celebrate holidays. Our conversations with families on this topic were so rich, thoughtful, and intentional. Rather than assuming what parents did or did not want us to celebrate, worrying about offending families of certain religions or nationalities – we simply started a conversation with them. This led to a huge culture of celebration in our classroom as we embraced and learned about different cultures, holidays, and ways to celebrate.
Body autonomy is another area teachers tend to not trust parents with. I hear often that while a teacher would love to let children choose what they do or do not want to wear, their families would never be okay with it.
The first year I dived into the exploration of body autonomy, and chose to let my students wear or not wear jackets out in the cold I made a vital mistake. I didn’t talk to families about it first. And then when parents came in to pick up their children, they pestered them about their jacket and I assumed they didn’t want them to take their jackets off and then I started to enforce that as a rule. Never once did I try to talk to my families about body autonomy.
This year, we made sure to talk about the topic just as it was starting to get cold.
If we don’t communicate with families, if we don’t trust their capability of discussing child development and early childhood philosophy, then how will we ever form a relationship with them, never mind find ways to challenge each others thinking?
“I really liked the cold weather “leap of faith” I was urged to take by you. I found that L did ask for a coat when she really needed to and then it seemed to make her be more responsible about making the right decisions…. She seemed to feel empowered to match what she was wearing to the weather.” – A parent response to a prompt asking families to reflect on outdoor play this year.