How do you support parents so they can support their children? Last week I wrote about the concept of inclusion and ensuring that each member of the community feels welcome in your program. Inclusion is a great start. Making sure that parents and other family members feel like they can come in and participate, volunteer when needed, and visit when they want is a baseline for building community.
It is very important to try and create a space for families to be together while in your program. I have seen lovely little nooks designed for a parent and child to read together with a small love seat designed for two or a little table with a couple of chairs so they can spend a moment together before the parent has to go to work. The “message” of this area is, “You are an important member of this community.”
I know I am going out on a limb here, but I would also love to see a light morning snack available for parents as well. My students have told me that I am crazy to think that anyone has that kind of energy or resources, but imagine having families arrive to a small bowl of clementines or mini-muffins so that parents and child can have a light snack together before their long day separated from one another. In the perfect world, the home-based child care center would be filled with the smell of baking bread and hot coffee- who wouldn’t want to stay and spend a minute? Remember, nothing builds community like breaking bread together.
Another great way to build a sense of community is to ensure that families not only know you and the staff, but they also know one another. It is important to introduce parents to each other, help them find commonalities, and encourage friendships between them. Encourage families to get their children together for play-dates, as appropriate, and to help each other out with car-pools, pick-up and drop-off, and pinch-hitting for each other in emergencies. As the families begin to count on one another, a sense of community will continue to build.
Learn everyone’s names. Find out what they want to be called and be sure to call them that. Learn how to pronounce difficult names- there is nothing wrong with asking again and again until you get them right. Learn the names of siblings and where they go to school. Remember the assortment of aunties, uncles, grandmas, and grandpas that come to collect the children. Learn their names as well and then remember them for the next time.
I am a big believer in remembering the small details of people’s lives. That’s what community members do.