How to Conduct Parent Orientation

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The Challenge

First, you gave tours to prospective parents, and then you helped the parents and children through enrollment. Now it's time for orientation. Do you sometimes feellike it never ends? I often had those feelings myself.

Solutions

Most centers have two types of orientation: first-time orientation and back-to-school orientation. I will address them both.

First-Time Orientation-I believe the best way to handle this is with a one-on-one meeting with the parents during the child's first two weeks of school. The sooner you make a connectionwith the parents, the fewer headaches you will have when there are issues that you need to address. Meeting with the parents early on lets them know that you are willing to make time for them, andthey will be more willing to go straight to you if a problem arises. If several families enroll at one time, I think it is fine to have a small group orientation. (Lunch time might work best forthis.) When you schedule the orientation, inform the parents that you will be answering any questions they might have at this point and that you will be asking them to sign a statement saying theyhave read the parent handbook. This will allow the parents to be better prepared for the meeting and is a nice way to encourage them to actually read the parent handbook. During the orientation,share your enthusiasm that the parents have chosen to entrust the care of their child(ren) to your staff and your program, and thank them for the opportunity to partner with them on this journey.Highlight important policies and procedures, such as dispensing medicine and sick and late policies. Reiterate your vision for the program (see sample on page 112, Why Having a Vision Is Important)and your philosophy (see sample on page 198 in the Appendix) regarding early childhood education. Even if you tell the parents on many occasions that your staff understands that children learn bestthrough first-hand experiences, many parents may still not understand what this means. Provide examples for them, such as learning language. Describe how your program promotes language and literacyin a hands-on manner. Show them what a lesson plan looks like in your center. Offer appropriate articles, websites, and other resources (see the list of books for a parent resource library in theAppendix on page 191) if they want to read more. Answer any questions the parents might have at this point. Lastly, ask the parents to sign a statement that says they have read the parent handbook.Put this statement in the child's file.

Back-to-School Orientation-This type of orientation only applies if you follow a typical school year and rotate children at a certain time. We moved children once a year (with the exceptionof infants and toddlers), so we had a back-to-school orientation every fall. I saw this time as an opportunity to help parents learn what went on day to day in our program. Every summer the staff gottogether to plan orientation. We decided to keep the day the same (Saturday), but change the format slightly every year. We offered two times during the day when parents could attend an orientationsession-one in the morning and one in early afternoon. This helped control the group size and allowed the staff to have more one-on-one communication with the parents. We usually began orientationwith some type of skit introducing the staff. Parents really enjoyed getting to see and hear the names of the entire staff. Then the staff took the children to another room for a fun activity (babiesand young toddlers usually stayed with their parents). This allowed the parents to participate and listen. Next, a staff member (usually the assistant director) would facilitate some type of icebreaker to help the parents get to know each other better (see page 199 in the Appendix for a list of Sample Ice Breakers for Parents and Staff). Following the ice breaker, I shared the goals thestaff had set for the year and challenged the parents to set goals for their families as well. Finally, parents were invited to pick up their child from the activity room and visit their child'snew classroom for punch and cookies. The teacher welcomed the parents and spent time getting to know everyone. The entire orientation lasted about an hour, and everyone agreed that it was time wellspent.

Key Points to Remember

  • Take time to orient parents.
  • Involve the staff in the back-to-school orientation.

For More Information

* For complete bibliography, see pages 209-217.

  • Read Blueprint for Action: Achieving Center Based Change Through Staff Development by Paula Jorde Bloom, Marilyn Sheerer, and Joan Britz.
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