It might be low down on your list of priorities at the end of a busy day or week, but good communication with parents will save you time in the long run, says Adele Devine…
When a parent leaves their child in your care they are placing their heart in your hands. That little person in an oversized T-shirt who they are waving goodbye to and watching through the window is their whole world. No wonder they linger, no wonder they ask questions and want details…
Good communication with parents, from the moment they enter your setting, is essential. If that little voice in your head is saying, “That all sounds true, but I don’t have the time,” keep in mind that good communication can actually save you time…
1. Communication board
Displayed at the collection point, a communication board gives parents something to look at whilst you search for that missing hat, and saves you repeating the same speed summary of the day. It impresses, encourages and allows a parent to have a proper conversation with their child on the journey home. Without reading the board the conversation may be restricted to, “Did you have a good morning?” and a single word reply. Having a bigger picture of a child’s day will encourage conversations and reduce separation anxiety. Have you ever noticed that the child who doesn’t want to leave mummy often has the mummy who really doesn’t want to leave their child? Maybe that mummy has a good reason. We don’t know the history of how long they waited to have that child or their past experiences of childcare.
Children are naturally instinctive and will pick up on their parents’ feelings when they leave them at the door. Do everything in your power to ensure those parental vibes are 100% positive.
A communication board can be created during a tea break. At the start of the week write down your theme, letter or number focus and add information about daily activities such as making face cakes or painting fireworks pictures. You could add that ‘tomorrow we will be making red playdough or hoping for nice weather so we can visit the park’. This will help encourage more communication and help children who respond well to having a schedule.
If you can find the time to add photos or display the children’s work, the parents will love it. I would suggest you keep it random (don’t do it every day or even on a set day). This way you won’t set up an expectation that could lead to disappointment. Instead, the parents get a lovely surprise when you have found the time to celebrate their children’s achievements with a quick visual display.
2. Communication books
This is another useful way to keep parents informed, and they are particularly important if a child has little or no speech. Each child in my class has a little home/school book and we try to write in them each day. I include photos, when I can because they allow a child with limited understanding of spoken language to have a moment of ‘conversation’ about their day. Again, it’s better to keep these random because, no matter how good our intentions, there is not time to do this every day.
3. Tick charts
Using tick charts can save time too. Fill in the times for naps and nappy changes. Tick a box for a wee or poo. Have a list of the foods offered and tick off if they have eaten. Parents like to know. Why? Up until they leave the child in your care they have known and possibly worried about every detail. It’s quicker to tick a box than to try to remember when asked at the door. Parents might not ask, but they do appreciate the information – if a child has or hasn’t slept or eaten enough it can have an impact on the rest of their day and how they sleep at night.
Please don’t wince… Adding and updating photos is easier than it sounds. Once you are past the fear factor and learn the basics it does not take much time. I love getting an email from my son’s school to say the website has been updated. Children like seeing their pictures on the website. It makes them feel important and raises their self-esteem. Prospective parents will also love getting a real window into your setting, when deciding if it is the right place for their child. (Remember that you will need to ensure you get written consent from parents or guardians before you publish photos of their children on your website.)
Once you get started you may even enjoy updating the website. You may even decide to add a blog, which could be viewed by other settings to get new ideas.
Having a list of parents’ emails is important if you need to get emergency information out fast. You can’t phone parents at 10pm, but email doesn’t have the same rules. Even if not every parent sees the ‘Emergency closure’ email you send at 10pm when you find out the boiler is broken, some of them will and it will help those working arrange alternative childcare. You could ask them for a quick reply if they see the email. One less call to make in the morning…
Calling parents is a great way to build a trusting relationship and find out more about their child. If you’ve sent a note home asking for welly boots and a week later they haven’t appeared, don’t get frustrated. Instead, give the child’s parents a call. They may have lost the note, forgotten or have difficulty reading or translating your note. Most parents love getting a call from the teachers or practitioners. It tells them that you care and allows then to speak openly, without the time restraints and other ears that can restrict communication at drop-off and pickup times.
Letters home at the start of each new term will let you let parents know about your new topic, request supporting items such as baby photos, and request voluntary contributions to snack time, soft tissues for runny noses or even volunteers to help out at your setting.
Getting into the local paper really impresses parents and grandparents and can give children a real sense of pride. It’s also excellent publicity and will raise the profile of your setting. Have a look in your local paper to see the stories they include and get thinking about something your children could do. You can usually find the contact details of the journalists in the paper or on its website. (Again, remember, written parental consent is essential!)
10 ways to communicate effectively with home…
1. Display a communication board.
2. Display photos and displays of work.
3. Use communication home/school books.
4. Use tick charts to record basic information.
5. Update websites with photos.
6. Keep a list of parents’ email addresses.
7. Pick up the phone and ask.
8. Send letters home at the start of a new term.
9. Do something special and invite the local press.
10. Invite them to observe.
Elizabeth Stone famously said, “Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Communicating with parents builds trust. Try to answer questions before they need to ask them and when those kisses goodbye take a little too long or you’d prefer them not to watch your session through the window… remember that their child is more precious to them than anything in the world. The handover can be scarier for the parent than the child…
Adele Devine is a teacher at Portesbery School & director of SEN Assist.