Welcoming and Supporting Families

INTRODUCTION

Establishing a welcoming environment is an important aspect of fostering family engagement. “A welcoming environment implies that a program has focused efforts on maintaining an atmosphere that is inviting to families and honors their presence” (Constantino 2008, 25). In a welcoming environment, families feel that they belong and seek ways to contribute to the program. They become comfortable with exchanging information with their children’s teachers and open to exploring ways to bring learning activities from the preschool program to home. An essential part of a welcoming environment for families with dual language learners is the program ensuring that they have opportunities to communicate in their home language. Encouraging communication between families with dual language learners who share a home language, hiring staff members (when possible) who are able to communicate in the families’ home language, and providing translations help the families to feel welcome in the preschool setting.

A welcoming environment also benefits the children. The family members’ presence strengthens the children’s sense of comfort and belonging in the early childhood setting. For young dual language learners, seeing that the program makes it possible for family members to communicate in the home language helps the children value their home language and culture and appreciate the importance of communicating in their home language.

CREATING A WELCOMING SPACE

Programs

  • Express a warm welcome by having staff and teachers greet families at the door.
  • Offer a family room, where family members can mingle with one another and access information on child development.
  • Make a private space available for families and staff to communicate with one another.
  • Arrange for support so families with dual language learners can use the home language to communicate with teachers and other program staff members.

Programs Regularly Provide Family Members with Information about Their Children’s Learning and Development, Well-Being, And Everyday Experiences

A key to building successful partnerships with parents is to make them true partners by sharing with them the same kinds of educational information and ideas that are important to the teacher and staff. In a high-quality program, there is ongoing communication between the home and the early care and education center. As much as possible, what the children learn in the program should be supported and reinforced at home.

Family practices in the home are also important for young dual language learners to learn, practice, and reinforce concepts in their home language that were initially introduced in school, such as literacy-building skills. Recent research suggests the use of families’ home language is a protective factor for children of immigrant families. When some amount of the family’s native language is used regularly in the home, young dual language learners show improved cognitive and social development. Thus, it is important for preschool programs to encourage learning at home in dual language learners’ home languages. This may be particularly beneficial in the realm of reading and literacy-building skills.

Information about Learning

Programs

  • Offer regular workshops for adult family members that family members helped to design and implement.
  • Provide resources for educating the children’s family members in various media (print, audio, video) and in the home languages of the families served by the early care and education setting, if appropriate to do so.
  • Provide current information about the role of the family in maintaining home language skills.

Teachers

  • Inform parents regularly about the purpose and benefits of the activities in the program for their children.
  • Provide information regularly to families with dual language learners about the benefits of developing both of the child’s languages and promoting bilingualism.

Programs Support and are Advocates for Strong Families

The better that families are able to meet their children’s basic need for shelter, food, and clothing, the more that family members will be available to support their child’s learning. Effective programs provide support to families who want it, usually by linking families with resources in the community through referrals. To support family functioning and promote resilience in families and young children, programs and teachers can establish community partnerships and identify key resources for families, connecting them to those resources considered appropriate. In particular, services that help families become self-sufficient and prevent risk of stress or at least reduce ongoing, intense stress, allow family members to become sources of support for each other. Services that promote positive, nurturing relationships among family members enable families to become more resilient and strengthen the children’s capacity for learning. Once working relationships with other service providers in the community are established, preschool programs can work to ensure that families receive needed services and children experience continuity in their learning and development.

Family Functioning

Programs

  • Collaborate with staff, families, and social service providers to develop policies and procedures related to family support.
  • Respond to questions or concerns from staff members or other adults and act as a professional resource.
  • Provide professional development opportunities to staff on family functioning, protective and risk factors, and community resources.

Teachers

  • Articulate an understanding that families function in a variety of ways and that children or families may require support outside the program.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of risk, stress, and resiliency factors related to family functioning and how to support all families appropriately.
  • Take steps for further inquiry when concerns arise based on observations of a child or family.
  • Communicate daily with families about children’s well-being.
  • Refer questions or concerns to other staff members when appropriate.
  • Work with colleagues to respond to signs of risk or stress in children, as developmentally appropriate and individually meaningful.

Community Partnerships

Programs

  • Establish effective relationships with partners to ensure continuity of children’s learning and development.
  • Maintain professional connections to community and state partners.

Teachers

  • Understand the importance of community partnerships in meeting children’s needs.
  • Form effective partnerships and collaborations with families, professionals, and community representatives.
  • Support the needs of children, their success, and their well-being by maintaining professional connections to community and state partners.

Connecting Families with Resources

Programs

  • Support staff and families in the referral process as appropriate.
  • Work with community resources to conduct outreach or provide services to program families as appropriate.
  • Anticipate families’ needs for support based on knowledge of the families’ circumstances or of current events that may affect them (e.g., economic climate, natural disasters).
  • Identify key community resources that support program practices and family needs, including services that support families with dual language learners’ communication with the program.
  • Share information with colleagues and develop connections to the program.

Teachers

  • Demonstrate familiarity with community resources to support children and families.
  • Respond to requests from families about community resources and refer questions to appropriate staff members.
  • Protect the confidentiality and privacy of families.
  • Engage in conversations with families about referrals to community resources and assist in identifying or gaining access to services as needed, with consideration for the diverse linguistic and cultural experiences of families.
  • Identify signs that children or families may require support outside the program, maintain documentation, and initiate closer observation or further inquiry, collaborating with families as appropriate.
  • Provide resources linked to classroom instructions to assist families in supporting continued development and maintenance of the home language.

Use of Community Resources

Teachers

  • Gain knowledge about the importance of community resources that can enhance professional expertise and children’s learning experiences.
  • Use community resources routinely to enhance their knowledge about families and services and classroom learning activities.

Programs and Teachers Engage Families in Supporting Continued Development and Maintenance of the Home Language

Programs and families with dual language learners are critical to children’s language development as the sheer amount of words children hear and the richness of the speech they hear is strongly linked to their future language and literacy abilities. Thus, it is critical that programs communicate to families with dual language learners the importance of speaking to children in their home language and suggest that families seize as many opportunities as possible to engage children in conversation. Parents need to help families understand the importance of dual language learning concepts in their home language and engaging in extended language interactions in their home language. In addition, preschool programs can
provide families with dual language learners with the necessary provisions and resources to teach new concepts at home in dual language learners’ first language.

Home Language

Programs

  • Collaborate with families and colleagues to provide a variety of ways throughout the program for young dual language learners and their families to participate.
  • Model one-on-one, group, and unstructured peer-to-peer activities.
  • Collaborate with families and colleagues to design an educational program that incorporates each child’s home language(s).
  • Encourage families, colleagues, and community members to use children’s home languages and provide training or support as needed.
  • Conduct ongoing evaluation of programmatic support for children’s home language(s) and use data to guide program improvements.

Teachers

  • Assist in offering a variety of developmentally appropriate, individually meaningful, and culturally responsive ways for young dual language learners to participate in the group (CDE 2009).
  • Work with colleagues to create various opportunities for young dual language learners and their families to participate in the group throughout the day.
  • Demonstrate understanding that the early education setting is often the first place where young dual language learners encounter English and that honoring each child’s home language fosters positive social–emotional development and the child’s development and learning in all other areas.
  • Support home language development.
  • Plan with families, colleagues, community members, and others who support children’s development and learning.
  • Incorporate practices that honor the role of the home language as a vital foundation in English-language development.