Family Involvement in Early Childhood Programs: How to Choose the Right Program for Your Child
There are many kinds of early childhood programs for young children ages 0-5. Some programs are home-based, while others are in more formal settings such as centers and schools. They include Head Start and preschool programs, both public and private. Regardless of the location, the extent of your family's involvement in your children's early childhood program makes a big difference in how well children adjust and how much they learn. When families take part in their young children's education programs, children do better in school, and the quality of their education can improve. What is family involvement and how can families choose early childhood programs that encourage it? This issue of Early Childhood Digest looks at these questions, and provides information on how to choose an early childhood program that encourages family involvement.
What Is Family Involvement?
Family involvement means that families work together with caregivers and teachers to create an atmosphere that strengthens learning both at the program and in the home. It includes the many ways that family members can influence children's education. For example:
- You can be a customer because early childhood education is a service for families. Like other customers, you can tell programs what you like and don't like about the program, and offer ideas about how to make it better.
- You can be a supporter of the program by giving materials (snacks, classroom supplies) to the program. You can sell things (baked goods, t-shirts) to raise money, and ask for donations from local businesses who want to support the program. You can find new families by advertising in local newspapers, and places where families go during the day.
- You can be a volunteer. You can work at your child's program and help teachers in the classroom or at snack time or lunch. Sometimes helping at school lets you go to teacher training workshops on issues like health and safety. Sometimes it means taking part in classroom activities like reading to your children.
- You can be an advocate for the program by talking to school board members and local politicians about the benefits of the program and the need for continued funding. It is your job to let the community know the importance of the early childhood program.
- You can be on the parent-teacher association (PTA) or on a parent advisory board that helps plan the program, hire staff, and raise money. This job lets you have a direct say in how the program affects your family.
- You can be a learner. Research shows that parents' child-rearing practices and beliefs are related to the child's performance in school. A good early childhood program can help you learn about your own children's development and what you can do to best support their learning and social skills. They can offer you ideas about how to help your children learn at home. They can provide information about what aspects of the home, what parents do, and what their attitudes are that are most important to children's early school success.
- You are the best resource for information about your child. Each child is special and you can help the program adapt to your child's individual differences. If your child has a disability, this is particularly important.
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