Preschool Parent Involvement
Parental and family involvement in a student's education, especially at the youngest levels, is critical for a positive, potential-filling experience in school and at home. A recent study looked into the implications of familial involvement in preschool, and how that involvement can be fostered by the school.
This study lays out a three-part framework for fostering positive interaction with and involvement from families in their community. The three factors that positively impact family involvement are as follows:
- Fostering multi-dimensional relationships
- Creating a welcoming school environment
- Enhancing parent cognitions about the school
The study focuses on a specific Montessori preschool and examines whether these three factors are present, and how they affect the school. As parent involvement and partnership are key components of the Montessori philosophy, this school showed an impressive dedication to and alignment with these core principles. The approaches outlined in this study closely resemble the approaches taken by many Montessori institutions.
Positive partnerships with parents are a key aspect of Montessori education. Throughout the study, the school focused on creating multi-dimensional relationships with parents; allowing parents and school staff to interact in a number of different ways, encouraging comfortable, positive interactions. This school focused on aligning with the six principles outlined in Epstein's School, Family and Community Partnerships Handbook. The school accentuated communication in a number of formats, and didn't shy away from the topic of parenting. This allowed for constructive conversations about learning at home, and aligning home life with school life, to better support the child.
Parents were also encouraged to provide feedback and opinions on various decisions made at the school. Teachers and administrators were diligent about soliciting feedback from all parents, regardless of their level of involvement, otherwise. While some families have a larger presence in schools (on various boards, committees, and associations), an emphasis was made to reach out to the families who were less visibly involved, so that they would not feel slighted in the decision-making process.
Other ways that parents were encouraged to get involved were through volunteer opportunities and community collaboration. Parents had a variety of volunteer opportunities throughout the year so that they could choose the opportunities that they were comfortable with. This practice led to every single family volunteering in some way. Parents and teachers were also encouraged to collaborate with the community in a number of ways. In some cases, the parents utilized their other roles in the local community to facilitate these collaborations.
Montessori classrooms and schools are designed to be student-centered and welcoming to all. From classroom design, to the quality of lighting, to how you are greeted when you enter a building; creating a welcoming environment is a hallmark of the Montessori philosophy.
From the beginning of the inquiry process, parents are welcomed into the school, and encouraged to explore, observe, and ask questions. Teachers, and in some cases, students, take time to meet with prospective parents and explain the value of the methods used in the classroom. Students are also invited into the school and encouraged to interact with materials and explore.
The environment of a Montessori school is student-centered and home-like. For young children who have never attended school before, a Montessori classroom is comfortable and relatable. Classrooms have home-like amenities, including sinks to wash hands and dishes after snack time, and different areas to spread out on the floor, sit up at a table, or move around the classroom. The student-centered classroom design focuses on allowing students to move freely about their space and choose their own comfortable area for doing their work.
Furniture and lighting is also considered when designing a Montessori classroom. Desks and chairs are all properly sized for the age of the child, and children are given options to choose where they would be most comfortable. Cushions and mats are available to do work on the floor, and materials are contained in shelves and cabinets that children are able to access. Soft lighting from lamps and natural light is also emphasized when possible.
Enhancing Parent Cognitions
Another important aspect of Montessori philosophy is educating parents on the value of preschool, and specifically the Montessori method. Montessori education makes up a relatively small percentage of American education, and many parents have no previous experience with the method. Buy-in from parents is crucial to the positive relationships schools strive to build, and a deep understanding of the teaching methods in use helps create that buy-in.
Teachers take the time to explain specific aspects of the curriculum to parents, and even to demonstrate the processes and the benefits, so that parents can continue the work at home. For younger children, teachers focus on presenting the Practical Life exercises, showing the level of independence that these young children are achieving. Parents are often impressed by the rapid motor skill and social-emotional development of children entering Montessori environments. Parents are sometimes skeptical that their child will be capable of engaging in activities like pouring liquid into a small container or utilizing real silver- and glassware. Observing students working through these tasks and learning the carefully planned progression of steps helps parents to realize the potential of their child and the Montessori method.
Parent cognitions are also enhanced by the outcomes apparent in their children. Simply put, parents are often amazed at the progress their children make in a Montessori classroom. The focus on independence, social-emotional learning, and developmental milestones leave parents amazed at the behavioral, cognitive, and physical development of their child.
Parents as Partners
Montessori education prides itself on the partnership between students, teachers, and families. This research presented an outline for engaging parents in positive relationships with the school, and also noted the importance of these relationships to the development of the child.
Parents are partners in education. Montessori education strives to create a child-centric experience that caters to the whole child. Part of that experience is an alignment between home and school life, and mutual support of the child's development from all caregivers. By utilizing the framework outlined in this study, and espoused by traditional Montessori institutions, schools can generate positive effects for cognitive, behavioral, and social-emotional development in children. Parents, as partners with a school, are vital to a child reaching his full potential and enjoying the school experience.