Monday, October 18, 2010

Hopes and Dreams for our kindergarteners: Working with parents

Last spring our awesome parent center coordinator came up with a brilliant idea- hold parent coffees just for kindergarten parents, addressing the unique needs of parents and children just starting the elementary school process. The minute I heard about it I told her I had to be a part of it.

Let me  back up for a minute- my school has a parent center, a room relatively near the front of the school where parents can go for English classes, spend time socializing, participate in volunteer activities for the school, use the computers, get information on how to navigate the maze that is public school, and attend our weekly parent coffees. Each Friday morning our parents come together for a presentation on some aspect of school-whether it is explaining how to help their children with their homework, understanding the importance of sleep, or learning about how to prepare for parent teacher conferences. The center is staffed by a parent center coordinator and a Spanish Liaison. Our parent center is one of the elements that makes the Think Tank absolutely rock.

So, when our parent coordinator came up with the idea of hosting programming specifically for parents of kindergarten students I was thrilled. The idea of capturing parents just beginning the school process and being able to help them early on set up routines that will stay with their children for the rest of their academic lives was too powerful to pass up. I knew I had to be a part of this. We plan to hold 4 of these meetings a year, one a quarter, and focus on essential aspects children need to be successful in elementary school.

This morning we hosted our first meeting. Each of the 8 kindergarten teachers submitted 6-8 names of parents in their classrooms who might benefit from this sort of programming. The parents were personally invited by a phone call from the school. We had no idea how many parents to expect- what if our parents just thought kindergarten was another form of baby sitting and were not concerned with hearing what we had to say?

How to help your child learn to read
Our turn out was incredible. I think we had about 30 families packed into our room for almost 2 hours, participating in our songs, activities and discussions. The turn out sent the message to us that parents are full of questions about kindergarten and are ready to work with us to help their children.

Our parent center coordinator began by having the parents fill out sticky notes to answer 5 questions:
-What are your hopes and dreams for your kindergartner?
-What routines do you have in place at home?
-What can you do to help your child learn to read?
-Why is kindergarten important?
-General questions about kindergarten

The parents were soon up and moving, scribbling their thoughtful reflections and sticking them onto our boards. I wasn't sure the parents would feel comfortable sharing but they soon conquered any hesitancy they had and were proud to add their own sticky note to the collection.

I think we learned so much from just reading their answers to our questions. Walking around the room I found myself with chills from their thoughtful responses and their sincere desires for their children to be wonderful members of society. 
Parents Hopes and Dreams 
Some other hopes and dreams: "go to college & finish his education successfully"
"I hope my child’d go to the good college. He wants to be a doctor."

"I want my child to be a better person that she can be. And I believe education is one of the key things that makes that happen."

-el sueno para mi hijo en un future seria que el llege a obtener una carrera universitaria

-que sea un doctor o un abogado pero sob rer todo quesea una persona horada y humanitario

-quiero que tenga una carrera universitaria y que este bien preparada

-mis suenos son que mi hijo tenga carrera universitayia y que se un ejemplo para los demas

Why is kindergarten important?

When we shared out their notes I watched the parents smile- trying not to give away that it was their addition to the board, but clearly happy to share their thoughts and ideas with the group. They nodded affirmations throughout, sharing their passion for their children's future and their firm beliefs in the importance of kindergarten.

Later in the program we had the parents get into groups and develop bedtime routines and then share out what they'd written. I have to admit when I first heard my parent-coordinator suggest this idea I was skeptical- make them come up with a bedtime routine? Wont they be insulted?
It turned out to be an amazing exercise, mostly because the parents were not learning from us, but instead they were listening to one another's ideas. Their 'aha' moments did not come from being lectured to, but from honest and open conversations with peers.

I loved listening in on their conversations and seeing them whisper ideas or affirmations to one another as they plotted the best way to get a five year old to sleep.

We typed up what our parents shared on their sticky notes to share with the rest of the teachers on the kindergarten team. The insights we gained from the notes will help us prepare for our parent conferences and help us understand what sort of literacy background our children have.

Nothing I say here can begin to capture the excitement and energy in the room this morning. I can't wait for our December meeting. Hopefully I'll be able to use my newly-discovered stats knowledge to find meaningful ways to collect and measure the data. 


CW said...

Wow! You learned so much about our parents. Thank you for heading this up!
I can't wait for the next one.

The Science Goddess said...

I. Love. This!

I love that the hopes and dreams of parents found a place in your school...and I love that you provided an opportunity for them to be the experts and share with one another about a topic they all deal with (getting a 5-year old to bed).

All too often, I talk to people (including teachers) who assume that because "poor" parents aren't involved with school that they don't care about education or being good at parenting. Baloney. These parents care just as much as any other. We just have to find ways to invite them and provide a safe place for them. Thank you for sharing this model.