Opening Doors and Opening Minds
Childcare centers occupy a unique role as they help children take their first steps on their educational journey. In addition, they are often the first places where children will be interacting outside of a family setting.
Opening a childcare center involves following a sometimes-bewildering range of policies and procedures to ensure the safety and well-being of the children in their care. Whether it is ensuring compliance with fire regulations, or having a robust syllabus in place, having clear policies and procedures, and providing regular training and support to staff members will help everyone understand and follow these important guidelines. Regularly reviewing and updating your policies and procedures ensures they are current, effective, and adapted to your community.
But going beyond that,it’s worth giving time and thought to intentionally opening your childcare center so that you can create a learning community. What do we mean by that? The best childcare centers are those which are truly open to hearing the voices of families and ensure that the program offered meets the needs and aspirations of the community which will be served. Conducting a community needs assessment is a crucial step in developing and identifying services and solutions and building communities that support and nurture children and families. This helps providers to build a program that can adapt to the community and avoid excluding people.
Communicating effectively with families is vital. This means not only keeping families informed about their child’s progress but addressing any concerns or issues that may arise. Think carefully about how you communicate with families. Is it through notes put in the bottom of diaper bags? Emails that may end up in spam? Or apps that require families to have access to smartphones? Message boards? A weekly newsletter? All of them?
There are pros and cons for all forms of communication, and it’s important that you meet your families where they are, considering any barriers which you might inadvertently be creating.
By setting up clear, open, and honest lines of communication with families, you create a culture of being responsive to their requests and needs. Make sure you provide opportunities for feedback, and you make changes and improvements where necessary. In this way families will feel that their needs are being met, their concerns are being addressed, and that they are a valued part of a learning community.
Engaging and Educating Families
Some families may have specific academic aspirations for children and say things like, “I don’t want my child playing all day, he needs to be learning!” On the other hand, there are families who may only know early learning centers as the equivalent of a babysitting service and may not realize that early childhood educators can be highly trained experts in the field of learning and development.
Some families want to be involved but may not have the confidence to ask questions. Providing helpful, trusted resources, such as information from the CDC and NAEYC, can enable families to be aware of how your program is supporting their children.
You can also help educate families by outlining your learning goals through new family orientation, a family handbook, or an introductory newsletter.
To increase family engagement, focus on building relationships and trust. Being welcoming, responsive, and listening can create true learning partnerships. You can further engage families by bringing them in to experience learning sessions along with their children or using their expertise in a learning environment.
Your program could also encourage families to develop supportive relationships and social networks within the community. This helps children interact with various safe and caring adults, have different experiences, and learn to understand different points of view. It also helps families to create support systems, particularly important for under-resourced and overburdened families. Some centers offer community space or give community partners an opportunity to offer information sessions and parenting classes. You can also host social events, message boards, or family volunteer activities to help welcome communities.
Targeting the hiring of qualified staff from within the local community, and retaining them through offering competitive salaries and benefits, providing opportunities for professional development, and creating a positive work environment is a great way of building trust and adapting to local needs. Understanding that this is not feasible for all centers, know that any effort you show will go a long way.
By opening the doors of your center to let the community in, you will better understand community strengths and more easily identify gaps in services. It can take time, and patience, but will result in a program whose impact spreads beyond the walls of your daycare center, into the community, and continues to support children and families even after they are no longer part of your program.
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