Home Visits 2008!
Home visits are hands down one of the most influential aspects of our pre-k program. We start our school year a few weeks after the K-12 students in an effort to visit each of the families registered for pre-k. It is a chance to meet our students, begin a positive relationship with their family, and talk about our hopes for the school year. It is amazing what a difference these 30-45 minute home visits can make through the course of the school year!
First and foremost, it is wonderful as teacher to be welcomed into a family’s home. In our diverse community, it is fascinating to experience so many expressions of hospitality. I had the pleasure of Tibetan tea in the morning, Indian rice and dahls for lunch, and a banana cake from an Ecuadorian family for an afternoon snack. Most of all, each of my new students were so proud to have the undivided attention of their teacher. They were great home tour guides and hosts.
Second, these short visits establish a very powerful and important home to school connection. Having a glimpse into the home life of one's students helps immensely when working on their social and emotional development skills. I am able to discuss individual strengths and hopes that parents have for their child in an environment that is non-threatening and familiar. I have found that the families I visit are typically more involved and active in their child’s education throughout the year. I am privileged to know them not only as parents, but as people.
Finally, our program, with all of its components, provides a natural bridge to the K-12 school years. Just this past year, I was discussing the lack of parent involvement in the elementary, middle, and high school years with some of our administrators. They mentioned that it is easier in the students' youngest years because a parent is required to be a part of our programs. I quickly responded that although it is required, I have set attainable and thoughtful expectations I know my families can reach with my support. If it were not required, I would have these same expectations. Throughout the K-12 years parents should be held to similar expectations. Being invited into a family's home gives teachers an opportunity to work with parents one on one. It allows teachers to develop a rapport with parents. You are working as partners to help a child succeed. Effective home visits help parents understand why they should be involved with their child's learning at any age. I am a firm believer that most parents want to do what is best for their child. Our interactions in the home give parents a fresh look at why learning is important and how they can be involved. It gives them the tools they need to be successful. I prepare handouts and highlight important information and we discuss the responsibilities of each team player: student, parent and teacher.
Some of the expectations I have with parents include being on time to class, coming prepared and picking up children on time. School is a place where individuals come together to learn. If a member of the class is late or not prepared it disrupts our learning and work time. Parents also are expected to transfer their child's learning from the classroom to their home environment. This makes our "school work" relevant and meaningful in the "real" world. Parents in my class are given assignments that, for some families, may seem silly: have dinner together, count the number of stop signs on your way to school, read to your child for 15 minutes, take your child to the doctor for a well check up, etc. However, for many families it is a very concrete way to check in and establish consistency between home and school. In addition, I host Parent Nights twice a semester to encourage parents to build community. It is helpful for parents with children at any age to have a support system. These groups are a way to foster personal growth as a parent, to reach out to other families who might be struggling with similar issues and enjoy being a parent!
I would encourage other programs, at any level, to look into adding a home visiting piece to your program. It has the power to break down barriers, offer a positive and proactive parent-teacher relationship, and is an opportunity to let your expectations as a teacher be known.