Written by Kim Mogard, Executive Director and Sue Mogard, Owner/Operator of Educare Learning Center, Jefferson Maryland.

With so many children enrolled in early childhood programs, they are now elevated to the new position in our society — truly that of extended family; they are a vital part of children’s early lives, acting as their home away from home and their gateway to all later learning. Many children spend more of their waking hours with their teachers and classmates than with their families—not a judgement, just a fact.

Taking this into account, it is essential for families to participate fully in early childhood programs where their children attend (and expect quality opportunities to do so).  Such efforts change children’s lives and become a vital part of producing a generation of children who are better prepared to meet the world. The following efforts take so little time and provide such rich benefits. However, each requires an intentionality on the part of families.

Expect a “Meet-and-Greet” Upon Enrollment

Set up a meeting with your child’s new teacher(s) prior to your child attending the program. Talk about your child’s interests, needs, program expectations and materials needed to be supplied from home. Tell teachers about recent illnesses, allergies, fears, past experiences in other programs, and your goals for your children. Talk about family members and how your child handles stress. This will help the teacher be better prepared to meet your child’s needs.

Get to Know Teachers 

Get to know your child’s teacher by reading bios provided by the program and asking questions that will help you and your child better relate to the teacher. Exchange a bit of information each day about your child with the teacher. Your child will notice the warm smiles and conversations shared daily with families and will feel more secure with their teachers.

Get to Know Other Families 

A big part of the early childhood program experience is getting to know other families. Ask for a listing of contact information for families via a directory or a one-page list (families must give permission have their names listed in a directory). This will make it easier to make contacts for birthday parties, playdates, or to set up a get-together.  

Take Time to Transition Children (Arrivals and Exits) 

As much as possible, use drop offs to help your child transition into their days at centers/programs.  Transitions from home to school can be monumental for children. Talk to your child on the way to the center about classroom activities, other children, and materials that they enjoy in the classroom.  Reverse the process during pick-ups. Children may well be engaged in a play activity that cannot be easily ended. Give them time to switch gears, talk about what you will be doing at home that evening.  Remember, the center is your child’s daytime home and they need time to say goodbye to their “extended family.”

Attend Conferences

Quality programs offer face-to-face teacher-parent/guardian conferences at least two times a year, typically during Fall and Spring.  Conferences are generally less than 30 minutes for a total of 1 hour of time invested each year, time that is well-spent. At a conference, parents/guardians learn not only how children are progressing but also about the teacher, the curriculum, and child development.  Passing up conferences puts children (and parents) at a disadvantage – take advantage of this benefit.  

Participate in a Family Association (if none, consider starting one)

A quality program has a family association that works to support the program in a variety ways such as planning and organizing family events such as potlucks, holiday gatherings, or fundraising.  Families who work together make a huge difference in the quality of programming offered to their children. This is a way families can influence children’s educational experience – and also how to get to know other families who may become life-long friends.

Set Aside Time to Do Home-Center Related Activities 

Ask teachers about activities your child can do at home to support your child’s learning.  Many programs offer home-school activities related to the curriculum (“homework” such as fall scavenger hunts, not just worksheets) that children and families can do together.  This is a good way to support a more in-depth learning experience for your child and become knowledgeable about the program’s curriculum.

Nurture Nature Experiences

Early childhood programs are required to provide outdoor experiences both morning and afternoon.  Find out if programs keep a log of time spent outdoors and how nature experiences are encouraged. A plethora of research is available regarding how our nation has become a nature-deficit society.  Make sure your child’s program provides this essential early childhood experience.

Learn About Licensing Standards, Credential, Accreditation, and EXCELS 

In Maryland, early childhood centers have several levels of quality.  Ask questions to see how your children’s early childhood program measures up.

  • Licensing (Required) – This level of standards require that basic health and safety measures are met and maintained.  Programming is appropriate for each age level and buildings and grounds are sufficient to support children’s active learning needs.
  • Credentialed Staff (Optional but important) – Teachers participate in a multi-tiered training and professional growth process that awards them in levels of accomplishment.  Programs are encouraged to have teachers credentialed.
  • Accreditation (Optional but important) – Programs can opt to become accredited which includes outside assessors from the state reviewing the program in regard to administrative practices, program operations, and home-community connections.  Program documents must be submitted to Maryland State Department that confirm certain levels of quality are being met and maintained.
  • EXCELS (Optional but important)–EXCELS is a quality rating system that levels programs from 1 – 5 with five being the highest level attainable.  

And Finally, Do These Mini-Activities that Result in Big Benefits

  • Read the Family Policy Handbook (yes, truly read it and revisit it yearly)
  • Post at home and discuss classroom and program newsletters
  • Post the program calendar at home and snack calendar in a prominent place; refer to it daily
  • Read daily logs sent home from teachers (do not simply throw them away)
  • Review program websites and “like” their Facebook page to receive updates
  • Talk to children about the program – activities, favorite materials, outdoor play, teachers, friends

With such busy daily lives, making early childhood programs extended family just makes good sense.  A proactive stance to becoming involved in your child’s program will ensure that children receive a strong base of experiences and learning to prepare them for future success and your influence on shaping your child’s lives will extend to include time spent in early childhood settings.  

Written by Kim Mogard, Executive Director of Educare Learning Center, Jefferson, Maryland and Sue Mogard, Owner/Operator of Educare Learning Center, Jefferson Maryland.