Communication with Parents of Young Students
It’s Crucial for a Smooth Transition
In education, the term transition is most often used to refer to the transition from school to adult life.¹ The educational community also considers the transition from elementary school to middle school and from middle school to high school to be critical transition points for a student.² However, according to Maridel Perdomo, director of the Schools for Children Extended Learning Programs, the first experience with education outside of the home for very young children is at least as important a transition as all others. It is the foundation for a student’s later academic, social-emotional and developmental achievement.
Key to creating that strong foundation, Maridel adds, is working with parents and other caregivers. “It is the best way to know what’s going on at home and continue it here to support students,” she shares.
A Continuum of Learning
“For instance, in Brookline [where SFC ExL provides after-school programming for the Brookline Early Education Program] we ask the parents to let us know when the students are potty training,” Maridel says. That is important for the staff to know so they can ask a student every hour or half an hour if they need to use the bathroom.
“That is a small example with a big value,” Maridel adds, “making sure the child doesn’t get embarrassed from an accident. By communicating with the parents, we know that we need to provide the child with reminders.” This builds self-confidence in the student – and avoids negative interactions with their peers.
Another reason for communicating with caregivers is to make sure that students are receiving a seamless message on certain issues from parents and the program. For example, Maridel will call parents if she or her staff observe something about the child’s behavior that warrants discussion. She can communicate directly about the behavior with parents and see what might be causing it. This brings awareness to parents and clarification to the staff about a situation.
For example, there was an instance with a kindergartener who is not allowed to play video games at home. When the student heard a classmate talking about a video scenario, the student did not understand the context but thought it sounded exciting. The student then talked about repeating the behavior in school, raising alarm bells. However, once Maridel spoke with the parents and they spoke with their child, the situation was clarified for everyone.
Mapping Progress Together
Still another advantage of communicating with parents regularly is that it allows the program and the family to map the progress of a student together and reinforces work by both to help students succeed. Maridel tells the story of a child in the program last year who was struggling in the morning portion of their studies before they came to the ExL program.
The student was not only struggling with their lessons but with their social-emotional development. The situation was so severe that the morning teacher recommended that the student not be placed in the SFC Extended Learning Programs.
Maridel advocated for the child to participate in the afternoon, because the program offers a different way of learning, learning through play and structured activity.
Working with the parents, SFC ExL was able to help the child thrive. The student is now participating in group activities, making friends, gaining self-confidence, and having fun learning. “The student still struggles in the morning but a lot less than they used to and is doing great in our program,” Maridel reports, “It’s good to see the student lining up to go outside for recess and making a few friends.” The parents are very pleased about the way the child has blossomed.
Ways of Connecting
Maridel’s preferred way to connect with parents is in-person, one-on-one meetings. Even last year with Covid protocol restrictions in place, Maridel would meet parents outside the building to make a strong personal connection with them. “I want them to open up and share as much as they can about their children,” she says, “That’s the best way to learn the most about students and support them.”
A strong connection with parents helps SFC ExL staff know how students act at home, how they share their experiences about the program, and how they act in the program compared to their behavior at home.
Of course, Maridel sometimes has to talk to parents about problems a student is having in the program. However, she does this in a way that gives the students agency, even at a young age. She allows students to speak to their parents about the problem themselves. Often the student will ask for help instead. “They will say, ‘I want you to talk to my mom or please talk to my dad,’” Maridel recounts.
Maridel believes that it is important to make the student comfortable with whatever choice they make. She trusts them to do what they say they will. Of course, if the situation keeps recurring, Maridel has to step in and have a conversation with the parents. But she tries to help students gain the skills to communicate concerns and problems directly with their parents.
Maridel also uses email for communicating general messages to parents, but she prefers the more personal contact. “It is more inviting. Also, tone of voice can tell you a lot,” she says. Body language, eye contact and other nonverbal cues provide intelligence you cannot get from email or broadcast messages. Sometimes the program holds events like an open house to share information and interact with caregivers.
No matter the method of communication, connecting with parents and other caregivers is a priority for the SFC Extended Learning Programs. “It is crucial to be able to communicate with each other,” Maridel says emphatically. Consistent, open communication allows program staff to know about and reinforce what is going on at home and to make sure parents are able to reinforce the learning taking place in the SFC Extended Learning Programs as well.
¹ Perkins School: https://www.perkins.org/resource/what-transition/
² Glossary of Education Reform: https://www.edglossary.org/transition/#:~:text=In%20education%2C%20the%20term%20transition,from%20high%20school%20to%20college, 8.29.13