How to encourage it

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We are very lucky to be in a situation where parents are very actively involved and engaged. But I think, it becomes incumbent upon us in any situation to see parents as very much protagonists - as very much connected because they know their children well - they know their children differently because their context is different. And so, together, our knowledge becomes more complete when we bring what we know together.

So that sense of inviting parents, not - how can we get parents to ‘fill in the blank' - how can we invite - in how many ways can we invite parents to make our understandings more complete - to see their children through our eyes. It doesn't mean that we have a better sense of who their children are but it's different because of who we are - because of our experience and our background - it's different from theirs.

So, to show through documentation; this is what I see; this is what I think is going on with your child; here are the interests that we're recognizing here - what's happening at home? So, you're not telling, you're not assessing, you're not judging - you're just showing through documentation - this is so interesting to us. Here is this wonderful thing we saw this past week and they may know why that word was used, why that particular response happened because of something that happened at home - and so again - together we have a more complete sense of it.

We've also shared questions that have come up in the program from the children with the parents. An example of that:

I think, a lot of people can relate, in block centres sometimes play can get a little rambunctious and on a particular day the play there was getting quite ramped up and instead of going over and trying to direct it to happen in a different way, they were - it was this group of little boys - they were offered a challenge.

There were two shelves that were farther apart than any one block could span and all the cars were on one shelf. So they were offered a challenge to try to get all these cars over to the other shelf without just picking them up and moving them. So, instantly, instead this "whoop, whoop, whoop" - there was a challenge, there was a focus and they started to have to think together about how they could do this.

So they tried building one pier to support and even then the blocks fell short, they couldn't do it. So they thought, we'll have to start again. They tried making two piers. It was taking more of any one kind of block than they had - so they were having to mix cardboard blocks and plastic blocks and wooden blocks and try to find a way to get this leveled, so that they could make it… and they did.

So, then we started asking them about bridges. How do you think bridges work? What makes them strong enough that they don't just collapse when a train goes on them, or a bus, all these cars or whatever? So they started thinking about that and they had all kinds of theories.

One child, I remember, said he was pretty sure there must be a lot of people underneath holding the bridge up. So, we started writing down the questions they had and we printed them off and gave them to the parents and said, we're in a city where there are a lot of bridges - under and over highways and water - if you can, when there's a chance, have a look with the children and see and just bring back what you found out.

So, it took no time at all, the whiteboards in here were just full of photographs the families had taken; of the question sheet - we weren't intending that it be a quiz - but they had taken those questions right out with them and got under the bridge and looked; and the children had drawn their own drawings of the bridges. We had so many stories and the parents were just delighted to be participating in that way. So their stories were on our board as well.

So that notion of invitation. And if parents aren't accustomed to being engaged in that way, if they're worried that they're being judged for how good they are as parents or any of those things - everyone brings their own fears and baggage into any encounter - what we want to do is just reduce that right down and honestly invite in many, many ways and, so it may take a while, especially if they've had some bad experiences before where they have felt judged, or where they've felt that they're just being told about their child.

It may take many different kinds of invitations but it's up to us, that is our responsibility to keep inviting in many ways. And they'll start to read the environment just as the children do - to read that context of authentic interest, authentic engagement and relationship. And then you've got again, all that many more allies and it just gets better and better.