Years ago, we used to hold preschool teachers responsible for preparing children for school. Today, we realize that early learning begins at home with babies and their families. Yet, many families of young children need information and support to nurture their children's learning and to navigate the early years of their children's development. The most effective early childhood programs are built around a commitment to family-staff partnerships that focus on both the child and the parent. With the proliferation of Birth to 5 programs, collaborative teams of families and practitioners typically partner to ensure that children are ready for school. A specialized team that includes therapists and/or infant/family mental health specialists is often needed for children at high risk for developmental delays or with disabilities who may need extra support.As children grow into their preschool years, more families enroll their children in early childhood educational programs. In 2017, the percentages of children enrolled in preschool, nursery school, and Kindergarten educational programs were 86% for 5-year-olds, 68% for 4-year-olds, and 40% for 3-year-olds. Early Head Start, Head Start and state-funded preschool programs established since the 1990s have contributed greatly to the rise in preschool enrollment during the past 3 decades. 2017 data shows that "Part C" early intervention programs focused on children with special needs in the United States served 3.12% of the infants and toddlers under 3 years old.
Research on high quality Birth to 5 programs by James Heckman and his colleagues at the University of Chicago underscores the need for investments in early childhood programs that have shown positive long-term benefits for children and parents. He notes that supporting parents and their developing relationships with their children are key to a successful program. To learn more, read a previous KIPS Blog on Heckman's brief book written in plain language that makes the compelling case for investing early to gain the greatest educational and economic outcomes for children and families.
How Can We Ensure Family-Child School Readiness?
Simply convening a meeting of a child’s family and service provider(s) in the same room is not enough. Both children and families need preparation for school which can be a life-changing experience. Getting ready for school requires building a foundation of trusting parent-staff relationships and parent-child relationships during the early childhood years that set patterns for future years as children progress through the K-12 school system.
Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine have developed and tested a relationship-based model for Getting Ready for school. This model can complement a variety of service models, staff, and curricula for serving diverse families as an additional resource to provide added value to Birth to 5 programs. It can be used in structured situations (eg., home visits, parent-teacher conferences) or unstructured situations (e.g., school pick-up, phone, text).
"Positive parent-professional relationships, and quality parent-child interactions in everyday learning opportunities, help establish foundations for school readiness in children and parents.” (Getting Ready Strategies, p. 38)
The Getting Ready model reflects the practice recommendations of the Office of Head Start and the Division for Early Childhood, Council for Exceptional Children. In a summary of research studies, including randomly controlled trials, with early childhood professionals and families using Getting Ready, the developers report improvements in children’s developmental skills (e.g., language, social-emotional) and parenting (e.g., affect, verbalizations). They also found increased effectiveness of interactions with parents by Early Head Start and Head Start teachers after training on the model. Children showing the greatest gains in development were those with developmental delays at the outset of the studies.
Build Foundation of Parent-Staff Relationships and Parent-Child Interactions
The Getting Ready model is comprised of 8 strategies aimed at building parent-staff relationships and enhancing parent-child interactions:
- Communicate openly and clearly
- Encourage parent-child interactions
- Affirm parent communications
- Make mutual joint decisions
- Focus parent’s attention
- Use observation and data to explain child’s development
- Share developmental information and resources
- Model, suggest, and practice
In a recent article describing the Getting Ready strategies, the developers offer explanations of the 8 strategies for practitioners and useful examples of parent-staff conversations and coaching to illustrate what each of the strategies could sound like with a teacher or therapist.
"Embedding key interaction strategies within a collaborative problem-solving process is not always easy, but can advance parent-professional relationships and afford parents the opportunity to share ownership for the children’s education, development, and overall success.” (Getting Ready Strategies, p. 38)
Parenting Assessment Builds Parent-Child Relationships
To help staff customize their conversations with each parent, consider adding an observational parenting assessment, like KIPS, to your staff's toolbox of resources. KIPS dovetails easily with Getting Ready strategies 2, 5, 6, and 8 by focusing on 12 specific parenting behaviors observed during a parent-child play session. With the added information from a KIPS assessment, the parent and staff would have common ground to discuss each parent’s current strengths and areas to improve in their daily interactions. They could then work together to tailor their parenting goals and services, and monitor each parent's progress in building their parent-child relationship and supporting the child’s learning and development.
Want to Learn More About KIPS?