Children’s optimal development requires strong connections between all the adults who share their care. Children must rely on the parents and teachers who love them to build the bridge they will cross every day between home and school, the place we hope will come to feel like their home away from home. It is up to us to make sure that bridge is straight, well-lit, and steady underfoot. We must make it long enough that a trip across offers children a sense of journey and adventure, but never so long that they feel any doubt of arriving safe and sound on either side to open and welcoming arms.
Every child’s “program” at Children First is different, because it grows out of the parents’ and teachers’ shared understanding of the child’s strengths, challenges and potential. That understanding grows and evolves as parents and teachers communicate about their observations, their theories and especially their feelings and hopes for the child. Some of this communication happens through written documentation in portfolios; much of it happens in informal conversation at drop off or pick up times; and some of it happens at parent-teacher conferences.
Parents and teachers meet three times a year to discuss the child’s progress and agree on goals which seem particularly important for the child at that time. Those goals become the child’s “Individual Goals” for that quarter. After meeting with all the parents, teachers reassess and redesign the weekly schedule, the learning environment and their planned activities to align the curriculum with the goals they have formulated together with the parents, so in this way parents are directly involved in planning the Children First curriculum.
Young children do not see themselves as separate from their families, so they will not feel accepted, respected, and understood at school unless they feel that their families are accepted, respected, and understood. They won’t feel that they truly belong at school unless they feel their families belong at school. As a parent, you are a key player in what we call the “caring conspiracy.” We want your child to feel nested in a conspiracy of caring adults that includes their own parents, their teachers, and other people’s parents; we want every Children Firster to feel encircled by adults with shared values and a shared stake in their well-being. The caring conspiracy shapes and bolsters a child’s sense of self in the way strong neighborhoods or extended families often did in earlier generations.
Children First depends on substantial and heartfelt family involvement. We are a small community, and every member’s contributions make a big difference. Children First parents tidy the playground every afternoon, substitute teach, drive on field trips, organize community events, sew, make copies, help with the garden, do our taxes, play chase on the playground, develop policy, write grants, design our documents, maintain our web page, read stories, cook with the children, give us legal advice, take photographs, bring us animals to study, and much more. Parent donations and fundraising efforts generate the extra money we need each year to balance our budget. Our two Saturday workdays, along with the carpentry and repair work done by parents throughout the year, keep our environment safe and functional at minimal cost. Our by-laws require that three parents serve on our Board of Directors. And our days with the children are richer when parent volunteers complement and support the work of the teachers.
Community develops when parents work with teachers on tasks that benefit the children we care for in common. We want Children First to feel like extended family, and we have learned through experience that this feeling grows as much from shared work as from shared fun.
We hope that every parent will find ways to participate that feel good, that inspire and sustain them. We hope parents will choose tasks that allow them to work from their strengths, develop new interests or skills, spend time with their children, enjoy the company of other parents and kids, and have fun. We try hard to ensure that parents feel enriched by and appreciated for their contributions to our program.