Intergrating Parents Into Your Curriculum

[Moore, T. 1999. Integrating Parents Into Your Curriculum. In Children and Families, 18 (Fall): 20, Alexandria, VA: NHSA]

I’ll bet you don’t tremble with excitement when you hear the phrase "integrated curriculum." If those words make you yawn, imagine how parents will react to a lecture on the topic. But most parents do want to know how their children learn. That’s what integrating the curriculum is all about -- teaching in a way that matches how children learn. Teachers and parent coordinators can start to get parents excited about an integrated curriculum, and involved at home, with these steps:

1. Communicate with parents in every-day language about their children’s progress. Look for opportunities before or after school to talk to parents. Or send home a weekly one-page newsletter. Try using a standard format to make the newsletter easy to prepare. Sections could include "We’re Excited About" with news of activities, "Three Cheers For" to celebrate students’ accomplishments, "Upcoming Events" to describe future activities and special programs, "Don’t Forget" with reminders for parents.

2. In conversations, notes, and newsletters, emphasize the many ways children learn. Here’s an example. A girl may spend 20 minutes trying to roll a ball through a door. In this game, she refines her gross motor skills and discovers how to position the ball through trial and error. Scientists also use trial and error to make discoveries, so her game extends beyond physical fitness to acquiring an academic skill. If the girl shouts, "I did it!" after she succeeds, she is starting to use words to describe actions. If the teacher hears her and responds enthusiastically, the child develops additional pride in her accomplishment and may gain more knowledge about her experience.

3. Emphasize that young children don’t always need to study a subject to learn it. This realization may seem odd to parents. How can their children learn to read except by reading? Explain that before children read, they learn about language by having conversations with their parents, teachers and friends. Children need to converse to develop their cognitive, social, and emotional skills. In almost every academic subject, certain "pre-skills" must be learned first.

4. Explain what may seem obvious to you about your children’s room and activities. For example, most pre-school programs use centers. But parents won’t understand the benefits of these familiar places to play unless we explain. Talk about how structure and routine -- in the classroom and in a child’s day -- helps the child feel comfortable with the setting. Parents have a significant influence in how quickly their children learn.

To encourage parents to try educational activities at home, clip and post the list below, copy for parents, or incorporate in your newsletter:

Fun Activities To Try At Home:

1. Talk with your children. Many of us fall into the habit of giving our children orders instead of listening and talking with them. Today, listen to what your child says. You may get to know your child better!

2. Invent songs. Make up new words to "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." Then ask your child to do the same. You’ll be boosting your child’s creativity and encouraging him to experiment with words and concepts.

3. Give your child choices. Does she want cold cereal or oatmeal for breakfast? To go to the playground or the children’s library? Even giving your child a choice of television programs will help him learn to make decisions. In Head Start, we give children choices in the classroom about where they would like to play. Allowing children to have choices helps them develop more independence and self-esteem. Children think more when they have options.

4. Allow your child to interrupt while you read him a book. Encourage your child to ask questions or share a real-life experience he remembers during the story.

5. Make story time exciting. Act out the story. Have fun. Pretend you’re Bill Cosby. If you’re reading "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," say KER-POW when Goldilocks’ chair breaks. Make the story expressive. Make it yours. It’s not always easy to involve busy, tired parents, much less get them excited about your integrated curriculum. But you can do it, and it will pay off -- in better educated parents, more motivated children, and happier families.

© Thomas Moore, 1999 Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books "Where is Thumbkin?" and "Do You Know the Muffin Man?". He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series "Music, Movement and More". He has also produced ten recordings for children.