When I was in the process of choosing a name for Shantivanam Children’s Community, I felt it was best to create a “community” not just a center or a preschool. Our goal at SCC is not only to have a group of children who come together each day, but also to have a community of children and parents who know and care about each other and who share similar goals and values.
Since the family is an integral part of a young child’s life, it is important to include the family to create the best environment for the child. While this inclusion does not mean it’s necessary for the family to be present all day with the child, there are ways to include the family in the over-all process. By working as a team with the parents, I believe we can make the child’s preschool and early years the most positive and beneficial possible. Creating a community that includes the parents can also create an extended family atmosphere for everyone.
To encourage the development of such a community we focus on:
Communication between the staff and parents is vital if we are to create a smooth flowing community. Not only should parents know how their child’s is doing at school, but they should also be informed of anything that affects the overall community or things that happened during the day that their child may ask about. Parents communicating with other parents is also a very effective means of creating a community atmosphere.
To facilitate communication with parents and between parents, we provide:
- individual family mailboxes
- personal staff communication at pick-up time
- written “What We Are Doing In Class” forms
- annual parent conferences
- password protected pictures on the WEB site
- phone calls
We try to personally talk to each parent when they pick up their child, but we also have individual mailboxes to help disseminate information. Mailboxes are used for memos with reminders of upcoming events or announcements of interest to parents, and for the child’s completed daily projects. Parents might also find a Supply Request form in their mailbox if their child needs more pull-ups or other supplies. Parents often use the mailboxes to distribute invitations to their child’s birthday party or to communicate with another parent about an upcoming play date.
To further communicate with the parents about their child, an annual parent conference is provided where we discuss the individual child’s general development level and interactions as observed while they are at school.
Personal phone calls and emails from parents are always welcome. We will use phone calls and emails to a parent when that type of contact seems to be the best way to communicate.
Team work between the school and the parents is an important part of our program. Two aspects of our focus on team work are the Parent Workshops and parent volunteer opportunities.
Parent Workshops are offered to help create consistent methods of care at home and in the childcare environment. Children gain a sense of predictability and security when they experience consistent methods of care from all of their caregivers. However, it takes team work to create this type of consistency so Parent Workshops are provided each quarter on a Saturday morning from 9 until 11:30. Parents are required to attend at least 50% of these workshops. During this time there is a presentation of current childcare techniques and/or a professional presentation about the health or well being of children. But just as important, this is a time when parents can share what is working for them at home with their particular child as well as hear some of the methods and techniques we use at SCC. Together we can create consistent responses to a child both at home and here at Shantivanam.
These workshops are not only a time for those who are looking for answers, but also for those who have discovered the secrets of happy parenting and are willing to share some of their successes with the rest of the community. At workshops we can address specific parent/child situations or recurring situations that participants would like to explore.
PARENT VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES
Another opportunity for team work at SCC is when we have an outing. Though the majority of our program takes place within the security of our campus area, we do have two possible outings that we take each year. During an off-campus outing we require adequate volunteers to assure the safety of all the children.
Our first outing of the school year is a Halloween parade up and around the block. Children bring their costumes to school and at parade time we dress them up. Younger children are in strollers and preschoolers are securely holding the hand of an adult. Then we parade up the street and call out “Happy Halloween” to passing cars. We stop at the home of a former student’s grandparents and have a snack while we rest. After snack time we return back to campus while again calling out “Happy Halloween” to passing cars.
Our second optional outing is at the end of the school year for the preschool children. As part of our Character Development Program, at the beginning of each school year the preschool children choose a charity to donate to. Each day at circle time the purpose of the donation is discussed and the children count out one to five coins they brought from home to place in our sharing bank. At the end of the school year the preschool children help sort the coins and then roll them in coin wrappers. If the chosen charity is unable to come to our classroom to receive their donation, then we place all of the rolled coins in a wagon and we walk to the bank to cash them in for a cashiers check to mail to the organization. As with the Halloween parade, all the preschool children are either riding in a stroller or holding the hand of an adult, so parent volunteers are definitely needed. Parent volunteers are not required to have a background check, so they are never required to manage the children by themselves. A regular staff member is always present when volunteers are helping with the children.
Socializing at SCC can be spontaneous and casual, as well as at regularly planned events. We encourage parents picking up their children to visit with the other parents and with the children who have become an important part of their child’s life. We also sponsor a quarterly Family Night for the entire family. These Family Nights are a pot-luck get-together so parents can meet one another and develop family friendships. There are often games and prizes or the children do a performance for the parents.