Partnering for our children

Research
Partnering for our children
By Charles E. Pascal
Professor of Applied Psychology and Human Development
University of Toronto
The real deal maker for ensuring healthy futures for our children is the relationship between the home environment where parents support their child's natural curiosity and learning from birth, and quality childcare and other early learning environments.
In my travels around the world, it is critical that we need to do far more to increase the effectiveness of the partnership between parents and early learning educators. Each partner in this key equation of success needs to be respected by the other for their unique and ongoing knowledge about the children they “share”, listen deeply to what the other has to offer and offer in return ideas for each child’s development.
While there are many efforts to increase “parent-involvement” many of these programs simply provide occasional opportunities for providing more information to the parents about how the children are doing and what the “curriculum” is, with cursory requests to the parents to provide ideas. Fine as far as these efforts go but they simply do not go far enough.
Can I tell when there is a genuine partnership between parents and early learning educators? I think so. What do I look for? When I am observing or evaluating this dimension, I listen in carefully to those transition discussions that take place at the beginning and end of the day, when the “partners” give and receive the child. What kind of information and advice is exchanged? Even in a 45 second moment, a parent can convey something useful regarding the child’s physical or emotional context that might be helpful to the educator. And the same stories abound at the end of the day when the educator provides information about the child’s day. Sometimes this information is written down for parents to read in the form of a daily diary about the child’s development.
In addition, well-trained early learning educators are superb at coaching parents regarding what we can do at home or raise questions about possible learning challenges. This kind of “embedded” parent training is extremely important and only happens when two-way trusting relationships are established. I vividly recall my youngest daughter’s early learning educators posing questions like “Charles, how is she doing when it comes to recognizing letters and their sounds?” There is a huge amount of information sought in that simple question, one that moved me to pay even more attention to our reading time at home - and one that led us to seek some diagnostic assistance to identify a learning disability. The early learning educator posed a simple question with powerful results. I was being coached and didn’t know it.
In terms of assessing how well the partnership between parents and children is going, there is no substitute for simply asking parents how much the knowledge of their own children is valued and acted upon by those who mind the children outside of the home. I recently spent an evening with the parents of children enrolled in an Early Learning Centre. The stories they told were ones of mutual respect, something special - something much larger than the sum of their own contributions regarding the health, well-being and futures of the children they “shared” with professional and caring early learning educators.
Adapted from the NSW Parents Council, Parent News, Term 1, 2013
Applications are currently open for Leading Communities for school leaders. This course will support participants to learn how to establish parent/family involvement as strategic school leadership practice, work effectively with external stakeholders to improve children's outcomes, and develop their community's social capital.