For families, sending a child to a preschool or childcare center can be a big–and often emotional–step. In order to ease this transition, it is critical that childcare centers work hard to help families develop a sense of trust in their school or center and ensure that families feel they are a valued part of the school community. Providing a warm welcome for families and creating a sustained feeling of connection can go a long way in helping new families acclimate to their new school.
And while these early-in-the-year connections are always important, finding ways to connect with new families is particularly vital this school year. With the broader context of the pandemic, many families feel particularly anxious about sending their child to a school setting. By focusing on establishing and sustaining relationships with families, childcare centers can provide a sense of comfort, calm, and connection as they welcome students and their parents into their community.
Prepare a clean, organized environment. As parents drop off and pick up their children each day, they are taking in all of the sights and sounds around them. Spaces that are clear, organized, and visually appealing help parents to see that extra care has been taken to create a safe space for their child. Consider hanging children’s artwork and pictures on the wall; seeing these artifacts of learning and creativity add to feelings of connection and contentment for parents. And these personalized touches can go a long way in easing any worries while also showcasing the type of learning and play their child gets to experience each day.
Communicate early and often. Educators of young children have an especially important role in communicating with families. Many of the traditional school day routines that are expected and ordinary for seasoned parents are unique to new families. It is important for teachers to communicate about classroom learning and activities and share positive notes about their students as they happen. A message about a child being a great helper, a thoughtful friend, or a creative problem solver in a quick email or exchange at pick-up time helps parents to see that their child is cared for and valued in the classroom. Additionally, a regular cadence of communication–whether it be a nightly note, weekly email, or monthly newsletter–feels comforting as parents know when to expect routine updates and information.
Center directors should also find ways to communicate regularly with families and ensure that families can easily get in touch with the school as needed. In a year where a large volume of communication will take place between childcare centers and families as Covid-related guidelines shift and quarantines need to occur, open communication and transparent messaging will help to develop and sustain a feeling of trust.
Create a sense of calm in communication, processes, and interactions. Though working with children can be loud, messy, and filled with surprises, it is important for parents to feel a sense of calm as they leave their child with you each day. As you plan drop-off and pick-up procedures, consider what activities might be happening as parents are in the building. Choose calmer, quieter activities that allow the teacher to step away and interact with students and families as needed. And, when a parent or child comes in with extra worries or anxieties, be sure to lead with a warm, nurturing approach. And when sending any type of written communication, be sure to check for clarity and tone. Parents can feel anxious as they open notes from the school, so a gentle start to any message can help to put parents at ease.
Foster connections between families and staff members as well as among families. One of the most important ways that you can make a family feel welcome at a school is to encourage staff members to connect with families. The friendly hallway hellos and quick conversations during pick-up and drop-off times help families to quickly get to know teachers, and the familiar smiles and day-to-day positive interactions quickly become a welcome, familiar routine. You might invite parents to join a school-based parent organization or simply create a few social events that allow families to independently connect. Creating opportunities for new families to connect with other families can also help families to feel like they are part of an engaging, supportive, and dynamic school community.