I was always extremely nervous the night before my Kindergarteners started school. Would I have criers? Would I have a runner? Would they listen to me? I rarely got much sleep that night.
Then, one year, I read an article that made me think about the first day of Kinder in a totally different way. I started thinking about it from the parents’ perspective.
On the first day of Kindergarten, we ask parents to – perhaps for the first time ever – leave their babies with complete strangers. For a entire day. They can’t call and talk to their child. They can’t drop in to visit. Nothing. Nada.
My husband and I only have fur-babies (two cats), and I think I’d be nervous leaving them! Our Kindergarteners, however, are real little human beings. Who have only been on this planet for 5 years. And who have spent most of those 5 years with their parents.
After reading that article, I stopped feeling nervous about the first day of Kindergarten. Really. I just stopped! If I felt anxiety creeping back into my brain, I reminded myself, “The kids and their parents are ten times more nervous than you are.”
Taking their perspective and thinking outwardly about the first day accomplished two things for me. First, it calmed my nerves (yay!). Second – and more importantly – it helped me change my thinking about forming relationships with my students’ families.
I then started looking for new ways to actively involve families in our classroom. Involving parents helps them feel more comfortable and also improves student achievement. So today I’m sharing 9 strategies to help you form strong, positive connections with Kindergarten parents. (Many of these ideas are applicable to other grade levels, too!)
- Send a welcome letter or postcard. Once your class list is finalized, mail families a welcome letter or postcard. If you like, include a photo of yourself so the kids and parents know who to look for on the first day of school. Click here to see some darling postcards by Teacher Created Resources – they’re just for Kindergarten!
- Set up brief family meetings before the first day of school (if possible). At one school where I taught, we scheduled 15 minute meetings with each child and family prior to the first day of school. Sure, it was a bit tiring, but oh my GOODNESS was it helpful! Not only did it make families feel more comfortable on the first day, but it also gave me a little sneak peek at what my students would be like. The kids brought their school supplies (and then I wasn’t scrambling to shove tissue boxes into cabinets on the first day). I also gave a simple little assessment to see where the kids were at (grab the assessment for free here). If family meetings are not already in place at your school, why not ask to see if scheduling them would be possible?
- Share photos (with permission). Snap some photos during the first week of school and send a little photo newsletter home with students at the end of the week (you’ll need parent permission first). My students’ families love seeing pictures of what their kids are doing at school! If you are able to have parent meetings before school begins, ask parents to sign a photo release form during that meeting.
- Collect family photos and post them in the classroom. Speaking of photos, ask parents to send them, too! At the beginning of each school year (usually when I taught my Our School Families Unit) I had each family send in a photo. I hung up the photos somewhere in the classroom. It was comforting to the kids, and little gestures like this help merge the gap between home and school.
- Provide family games to help parents create fun learning experiences at home. My Kindergarteners’ parents looooved homework. I never sent any home the first week or two, and I usually had parents ask when the homework would begin! 🙂 Instead of only sending home worksheets, however, I also sent home games that families could play together. The 35 literacy games in my Family Literacy Games pack shown below help families feel involved in their children’s education. The games come with detailed parent directions (in English and Spanish) and links to optional parent videos. Parents love the visual directions provided in the videos!
- Call home to share positive news. I’m sure you’ve already heard about the importance of positive phone calls home, so I won’t dwell on it. I know that it can be hard to find time to make those calls! Another option is sending notes home. Click here for a set of parent notes in English & Spanish.
- Invite parents into the classroom on multiple occasions. I’ll be the first to admit that I am much more comfortable teaching in front of 5 year olds than I am a group of parents. However, inviting parents into the classroom has always been a wonderful experience for me. At the end of our second writing unit of the year, my Kinders create little invitations for their parents, asking them to come to a writing celebration. The kids read their stories aloud in small groups while the parents watch. The families absolutely love it! After that initial experience, I then invite parents into the classroom to volunteer, as well as for additional events and performances.
- Create volunteer opportunities for parents who cannot help out in the classroom. Some parents will not be able to come into the classroom due to jobs or other responsibilities. But they can still help out! Ask if parents would like to help out with cutting or other prep work, and then send home large plastic baggies with directions and the materials.
- Explicitly tell families how important they are! All of the above actions send the message to parents that they are valued and an important part of their children’s education. But nothing replaces explicitly telling them how much you value them and their input. Some parents have not had positive experiences with the school system in the past. You have the opportunity to help them create a more positive future!
Is there anything that you would add to this list? Please comment below! Thanks for reading. 🙂
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