During the peak of COVID-19, for two years, Brooklyn Preschool of Science had very limited familial interaction. In September 2022, we went back to pre-COVID policies, which was wonderful. I think families realized how much they missed the level of engagement that comes with being part of a school. I felt like they missed the ability to see the school in person and attend events, Character Day, parades and functions. I believed that they missed that bond between school and families as much as the staff did.
Indeed, our families have been eager to return. Looking back at this year, I don’t think I’ve had a year when we’ve had such amazing, engaged families. Here’s how we continue to build that connection.
Daily and weekly communication
We try to build interactions between families and our school into every day, starting first thing in the morning. Some schools have drop-off at the front door. There’s just a quick goodbye, then the family member takes off and leaves the student to begin the school day without them.
At our school, we have drop-off in the classroom, because it means every day starts with a face-to-face interaction between a family member and their student’s teacher. It invites family members not just into the classroom but into the learning process in a natural way. If they see activities set up on a table, for example, it’s an opportunity for families to ask, “Oh, what are you learning about today?” Then, they get to spend a few minutes talking to the teacher about the curriculum.
Each day, we also send messages home through the Brightwheel childcare management app. These are usually just a quick paragraph about what the student did during the day and what the class is working on, along with some images from the class or of the individual student.
At the end of the week, we send out beautiful newsletters that look like little magazines. They’re two to four pages, depending on how granular teachers get with the information they want to share, but they highlight everything students did during the week. They demonstrate for families how concepts are scaffolded throughout the week until there is a culmination on Friday.
Scheduled meetings help create a bond between school and families
We have four meetings with student families throughout each year. The first is a one-on-one Zoom meeting between a student’s teacher and a family member. This is an opportunity for teachers to get to know the likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses of each child so they can hit the ground running on the first day of classes. It’s also an opportunity for family members to begin getting to know the teacher, to begin getting comfortable with them and to make sure those lines of communication are open from the very beginning.
In November, we have our first parent-teacher conference meetings, where our teachers create in-depth progress reports. I know some people think progress reports are overkill for 2-year-olds, but, the truth is, if a teacher is worried about something that early in a student’s life, intervention is crucial. We take progress reports very seriously and provide another one at a second parent-teacher conference in April.
At the end of the year, we send out thank-you notes to all of our families, and teachers have the opportunity to design their own end-of-year events for their classes. My wife is the 4-year-olds’ teacher, for example, so she has her students sing a few songs and then she hands out diplomas. We hold events in the nearby park when that’s allowed. Afterward, there’s food, and everyone gets pretty festive and highlights a year of building a bond between school and families.
Special events and community partnerships
We also partner with community organizations and businesses to create events to bring families into our school community throughout the year.
Recently, for example, we partnered with Treasure Trunk Theatre, an organization that provides theatrical arts classes for children, for an event about simple machines. Our teachers filled up trunks with wheels, axles and whatever they felt was connected to simple machines. Then students used those items to act out scenes while their families sat in the audience.
My yoga teacher asked a while ago about how she could connect with families outside of school, so we came up with a fun event in partnership with SoulShine Life, a company that teaches yoga for families and children. We called it Yoga Saturdays, and each week families could meet with a yoga teacher at a local park for a class. It cost $25 per family and was an excellent way for students and families to connect with their school community outside of the school itself.
Our school also has partnered with Brooklyn Bridge Parents to host a biodiversity day at a different school that will give the children a chance to be exposed to some of Earth’s most beautiful creatures. At Dumbo Drop, a huge local block party that’s also a benefit for local schools, we’re presenting a “magic of science” event to show children the fascinating world of chemistry.
The first four years of a child’s life are so important. Once a child goes into elementary school and then middle and high school, families are so much less part of the academic journey and the day-to-day process. So it’s important for early-childhood educators to build a beautiful bridge, or bond, between school and families. Such community-building helps foster a life-changing relationship.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.