Best Practices

Partnering with Families? Prioritize Bonding, Play and Fun

Read Time: 5 minutes
Emily Roden
President , ReadyRosie
April 7, 2020

Immediately before the COVID-19 crisis began, when many schools were closed for Spring Break, I had a full day of weeding to do in my yard. I told my three children that the only rule was that they had to stay outdoors all day. My children play independently quite a bit, but what made this day unique was that I was weeding and working in the yard right beside them. They played as if I was not there, but for the first time in a while, I heard what their play was all about. I heard my son create a store and invent a product (“soup on a stick)” that he sold to his sisters. (I am still a little unclear on what that product actually looked like, but maybe he is on to something?) I heard my daughters create an entire “house,” with rooms made of stick outlines, homemade cooking utensils, and improvised furniture. I heard my oldest daughter deliver a soliloquy on “farm living.”  The learning that took place that day was incredible—my children worked on problem-solving skills, writing skills, and communication skills.  If I had time, I could geek out on tracking all of their experiences back to standards!

Yet as soon as they announced that our school would close due to COVID-19 (just one week after the day of weeding, playing, and learning), I got so panicked by the thought of my children “getting behind” that I started to outline a rigorous schedule.  I started looking up first and second grade learning standards. I am ashamed to say that I even printed off some worksheets (something I have actively spoken out against for families!)

In the midst of my well-intentioned panic and desire to be a “good mom,” I temporarily forgot that most learning is through exploration, play, inquiry, language and interaction—whether that is in the classroom or at home!

At ReadyRosie, we have been supporting schools and programs as they develop deep and reciprocal partnerships with families for over 8 years.  Through those years, we have learned some best practices for family engagement, that families can continue to use, even as life returns to normal.

School and program leaders, please consider communicating the following as you think about supporting families—especially families with children on the birth through elementary continuum:

  • Worry less about structure and more about bonding.  If you have an extra 30 minutes, build a fort out of sheets and read together under it. It does not have to be at a certain time of day—just whenever you can fit it in while balancing the stress of whatever your everyday “normal” looks like right now with work, caring for multiple children, or managing your health or the health of those around you.
  • Dive into play.  Young children, when given the freedom, can actually come up with imaginative play that will challenge their minds more than anything we can come up with as adults.  If you have a few minutes, dive into play with them by going on a bear hunt, playing restaurant, or playing airplane.
  • Plan for fun.  Plan one fun thing a day. On Friday last week, when my kids seemed bored and we were all at our wits end, I had a game planned in my back pocket—freeze dance.  We played for 15 minutes. Everyone got to be the DJ at least once and it broke up the day just enough to make us all feel recharged.

For those who are panicked and stressed about children losing skills, over the summer or school breaks, rest assured that the activities mentioned above support gross-motor, fine-motor, problem-solving, self-regulation, listening, speaking, and creative skills and so many more!

Our job as educators is not to ask families to do what trained teachers do, our job is to support families in the things they are doing in the home any way—preparing meals, eating together, doing laundry, etc.—and to model for them how those common activities can be meaningful for their young children! That has been and will continue to be vital to making family partnerships transformative.

Build Powerful Family Partnerships

When educators intentionally partner with families to make connections between learning in the classroom and learning at home, every child benefits.

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