Building Connections to Home and Community Through Active Experiences (page 3)
The family has long been considered the child’s first and foremost teacher and possibly the child’s primary community for learning (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997; Powell, 1989). Teachers can utilize the family as a resource for children’s learning both in the school and in the home. There is an increased research base on the benefits to the child of family involvement even if the extent of that involvement is small (Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994; Marcon, 1992; Stevenson & Baker, 1987).
Teachers and parents may face some challenges in working together. According to Powell (1989), early childhood educators increasingly service families characterized by single-parent households, cultural diversity and ethnic minority status, dual-worker or dual-career lifestyles, economic pressures, and geographic mobility. The new demographics of family structure call into question the viability of existing approaches to relations between families and early childhood programs. Yet, frequent contacts cement a genuine respect and tolerance for different family types. Involving parents as active partners in the classroom provides both parent and teacher with firsthand information about the expectations of the home and the school.
Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science has created questions parents can ask their local schools. These questions were designed to encourage communication among parents, teachers, school administrators, and the community as a whole. They can also be found on the American Association for the Advancement of Science website: Education, Kids and Parents, The Parent Page. Similar questions can be formulated for parents of younger children.
- Is science literacy for all high school graduates a major goal of the K–12 program?
- What provisions are made in the curriculum for students of different interests, talents, and ambitions to succeed in science?
- What is the proportion of females and minorities enrolled in advanced science classes?
- Do teachers at different grade levels work together to clarify what ideas will be learned and when they will be learned?
- Are students learning connected concepts rather than simply memorizing isolated facts, formulas, and technical terms?
- Is the learning active and student-centered?
- Do teachers welcome curiosity, reward creativity, and encourage healthy questioning?
- Are teachers given encouragement, time, and resources to update their own skills and knowledge?
- Do teachers look for and deal with students’ misconceptions about how the world works?
- Do teachers and school administrators use national or state standards as guidelines for improving student learning?
Classrooms work best and children learn more when parents are involved. Teachers may employ the following multiple approaches:
- Conferences in which teachers provide parents with samples of children’s work and invite parents to share their observations about their children’s learning and their suggestions for classroom and community experience based on their children’s interests.
- Use of informal contacts. Busy parents enjoy a brief chat before school, telephone calls, informal notes, and bulletin boards that inform them of plans and programs and invite them to participate in a variety of ways.
- Somewhat more formal contacts through the provision of a Parents’ Corner or Family Room where parents may interact around learning materials and other activities of interest to the family. Often these include a lending library with toys and picture and reference books, and children’s science magazines such as Wild Animal Baby published by the National Wildlife Federation.
- Regular newsletters explaining the goals for the week, why certain activities were planned, and how parents can support the lessons at home. Other items to include in newsletters are special events at school, science activities that children have enjoyed, special television programs on scientific topics that parents and children might watch together, and special events for children and families occurring in the community.
- An open-door policy for parent observation and participation. If parents are unable to work regularly as paid or unpaid volunteers, they may make or send materials for special projects in the classroom, help on field trips, or come to school when their schedules permit.
- Selection of active science experiences for children that can be documented. Children will have products such as drawings, charts, or stories to communicate to busy parents what they are doing in school. Digital cameras allow teachers to make a copy of an important science discovery for each child’s family.
Parents support the teaching of science by the interactions they have with their children at home. Brewer (1998) suggests that teachers “help parents understand that children learn science when they wash a greasy dish, water a garden plot, ride their trike down a sloped surface, and so on. Some parents think science experiences have to be formal and difficult for learning to occur” (p. 344). Teachers should emphasize safety issues with parents before they undertake even the simplest activities. Additionally, by learning about the diverse cultures of their students’ families, teachers can avoid science activities that will be offensive such as experimenting with food or studying animals that have symbolic meaning in a culture.
Parents can encourage scientific thinking in their children by asking open-ended questions and taking time to encourage the answers. They can help their children to observe (“What shapes do you see on that tree?”), classify (“Let’s put away your toys by color”), predict (“How long will it take that squirrel to get up the tree?”), and quantify (“How tall is that building?”). It is possible to practice the skills of science everywhere (National Science Teacher’s Association, 1999.) In addition, it is never too early for parents to encourage children to care for the environment.
Teachers will want to plan family science events at school and send suggestions home in the class newsletter for supporting science learnings in the home. Successful school science events will involve the whole family in collecting data, undertaking investigations, and solving puzzles and problems. These are active experiences for the whole family. The standard school science fair usually involves complex materials and equipment and seems more like a competition than a joint exploration that is both fun and intellectually stimulating. The following interactions with parents should introduce them to, and involve them in, children’s science experiences.
- In the class newsletter, have a weekly suggestion box designed for supplementing the science curriculum at home. For example, highlight free activities occurring in the community, exhibits to be visited, activities based on kitchen science, and backyard activities.
- Have parents and children work together to create minimuseums at home that can be shared with the class when completed. Send parents a note explaining the goal of the activity, how it is related to work at school, and simple directions for making the minimuseum. An example might be a collection of shells from a visit to the beach.
- Teachers may want to put together a “science backpack” that children take home on a rotating basis (Brewer, 1998). The backpack contains a note explaining the purpose of the activity, an information book related to the activity, and all the materials necessary for completing the activity. The teacher will want to make sure that all of the materials contained in the backpack are safe, easy, and fun for parents to use and are translated into their native language.
Additionally, even if family members cannot volunteer in the classroom on a regular basis, they can share their talents, occupations, hobbies, customs, and traditions with the class and school community as they are able.
© ______ 2007, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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