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Communicating with Parents and Family in Early Childhood Ministry

When parents and teachers share similar goals and use similar approaches, teaching God’s Word is strengthened. A clearly defined and consistent plan for communicating with parents will develop a strong link between church and home. Long-term positive results in child guidance and spiritual nurture are increased when parents and teachers become partners working together. Conversely, whenever parents are ignored, the impact of any program involving their child is greatly reduced.
Communicating with Parents
Welcome and Information Center
The easiest way to ensure that you regularly interact with parents is to establish a consistent location at which parents may sign in their children, receive information about their children’s classes, register for various children’s events, get name tags, etc. Consider the traffic pattern on Sunday mornings and set up a table or counter at a convenient location. (Large churches may need more than one such location.)

Visitors should be able to easily identify the Welcome and Information Center. Post a list of all classes and where they meet and the names and phone numbers of the teachers. Keep available a good supply of current brochures describing your early childhood ministry. The director or leaders of your early childhood ministries or a former teacher who is knowledgeable about the programs being offered should be at the location. You may also recruit someone to act as a greeter for 10 to 15 minutes before and after the start of a session but who is then free to attend an adult class or worship service.

Classroom Signs
Outside every class, mount a sign with the name(s) of the teacher(s). Also mount (outside or inside the class) a poster with candid snapshots of teachers in action with students. Add labels with the names of the people pictured and update the photos periodically. Particularly in a larger church in which parents may be unfamiliar with their child’s teacher, these signs and photos will help to create a sense of connection.

Handbook or Brochure
Another key method to communicate with parents is to develop a handbook or brochure that describes the programs and procedures of your early childhood ministry. (You may wish to combine this handbook or brochure with the programs for elementary age children.) Update the handbook at least once a year or more frequently if your programs change throughout the year.

Give the handbook to all parents at the beginning of the school year or whenever a family visits your church. Make sure that each teacher also has a copy. Provide copies in the church entryway and make sure that ushers know the location of the books, so they can give them to interested visitors. The handbook should include information on the following topics:

– The goals and purpose of your ministry
– Well-child guidelines for children coming to church
– Greeting and dismissal procedures including your church’s plan for child and parent identification
– How you would like parents to provide information about the child (name of child and parents, phone numbers, allergies, etc.)
– Programs available for young children, time schedules (include both starting and ending times), room locations for different ages, facility map, a summary of a typical session plan and description of programs for families and parents of young children.

Parent Newsletters
At several significant times throughout the year, it is helpful to send newsletters to parents. (Some churches develop monthly letters.) These newsletters are to help parents understand how they and their children can best benefit from the programs available for families with young children.

The most effective times to send newsletters are at the beginning of the school year, at the start of holiday seasons and at the beginning of summer vacation. Holiday times are natural opportunities to contact parents. Parents are often looking for ways to help their children experience the spiritual significance of such holidays as Christmas and Easter. Some parents just need to be reminded that Sunday School is one of the best ways to help a child discover and enjoy the rich meaning of the holiday. Always include information about something specific that is going on in your early childhood ministry, including the time, place and age groups.

“Here’s What We Did Today” Forms
Give teachers copies of forms on which they can write brief descriptions of the learning activities in which children participated. For a small class, teachers complete forms for individual children. For larger classes, teachers complete one form before class and photocopy it so that each child has a form to take home. Phrase comments so that they present the purpose of the activity, not just the activity itself. For example, in addition to noting “Our Bible story was about David,” add the phrase “who was kind to his friend Jonathon.” In addition to writing “We had fun building with blocks,” add “and sharing them with my friends Blake and Jorge.”

An enlarged copy of the form may be posted at the classroom door so that parents can see at a glance a brief description of their child’s activities and be able to talk with the child about the lesson activities. You may also attach by the entrance of each classroom a small white board on which the teacher writes two or three activities in which children participated.

Parent Observation/Open House Days
Periodically invite parents to schedule a Sunday when they will observe a full or partial class session with their child’s teacher. Participating in activities with their child will give parents firsthand knowledge of what happens in Sunday School. A small church may schedule all parents to visit on the same day, but a larger church will want to stagger parent visits.

If there are many young families visiting your church or moving into your church’s community, offer a facility tour for prospective children and their families. Distribute copies of your handbook. Answer questions about the policies and programs of your early childhood ministry. Provide a brief time with refreshments for teachers and parents to talk together. You may wish to invite a parent whose child has been participating in Sunday School (or another program) to attend the open house or tour. Ask this parent to describe how their family has benefited from the church’s early childhood ministry.

Family Support Ideas

The typical Sunday School teacher tends to feel that the effort of preparing lessons and guiding sessions is more than enough responsibility. But when Sunday School teachers work in isolation from the child’s family, they cannot be aware of individual circumstances. Help your teachers understand that developing an interest in their children’s families is not adding a new task to their teaching ministry. Rather, it is enriching their ministry, providing greater satisfaction in teaching.

Class Rosters
A basic step in helping your teachers know the families of their students is to provide teachers with up-to-date rosters that list each child’s name, address, phone number, birthday and first and last names of parents and siblings. Rosters can be compiled from registration cards and may need to be updated several times throughout the year. Displaying rosters (including pictures, if possible) at each classroom door makes it easy for parents and children to find their classrooms and feel welcome.

It is especially helpful if rosters not only list the names of children actively involved in Sunday School (or another program), but also list the names of children from church families who are not actively involved. Encourage teachers to periodically make contact with these children and families to give a personal invitation to attend class. Suggest that teachers use lists to make contacts informally (in the church parking lot, at an adult event, in the grocery store, at the mall, at the park, etc.).

Follow-Up Suggestions
While the goal of communicating by card or phone call with each child during the week would be overwhelming, encourage your teachers to set a goal of communicating with at least one child and his or her family each week. This smaller task can be accomplished easily if teachers have been provided with class rosters, note cards, stickers to enclose with brief notes, stamps, etc. Enclose all the items in a resealable bag, along with a pen.

Pay special attention to the ways in which visitors are contacted in the week or two after their first visit. In addition to mailing personalized “thanks for visiting” cards or letters, some churches give each visiting child a gift bag with several inexpensive play items (stickers, crayons, stamps, etc.) as well as printed information about your church.

Creative Support Ideas
– Keep an ongoing list of special ways in which the church can support families.
– Plan a series of parent education classes that give parents advice and guidelines for common parenting issues. Invite a speaker (a knowledgeable person in your church or community) to address an issue of interest to parents – discipline, activities to do at home, holiday celebration ideas, safety in the home, how to use take-home papers effectively, etc. Include a time for parents to talk together and trade ideas and thoughts about the challenges of child rearing. Offering six to eight sessions over a period of several months will encourage participation by parents whose time is limited.
– One to three times a year plan PTO (parent-teacher organization) meetings at which information about teaching children spiritual truths is presented.
– Send out copies of articles of special interest to parents (available from Christian parenting magazines).
– Plan ways the church can support a family when a new baby is born or when a child or parent is ill (meals, transportation, child care, etc.)
– Develop a prayer-partner system in which members of the church family are linked with parents of young children. Prayer partners can share requests by phone, e-mail or personal meetings.
– Establish a shelf, table or corner near the early childhood classrooms where books and magazines of interest to parents of young children can be displayed. Stock this useful library with books about child rearing, activities to enjoy with young children, age-level characteristics, etc. Encourage parents to sign out these books, returning them in a week or two. Invite parents whose children have grown beyond the preschool stage to donate books or video they found helpful as parents of young children.
– Give visiting families a welcome pack that includes information about the church programs, stickers for children to play with, registration cards, letter from a parent describing the benefits of participating in church programs, refrigerator magnet with church information, etc.
– Connect grandparents to young families by forming a Grandparents’ Club. Invite senior adults who do not have grandchildren or who grandchildren do not live nearby to join in informal meetings with young families – particularly those whose parents are no longer living or who do not live nearby.
– Once a month offer free baby-sitting to parents of young children during the dinner hour. Parents can eat at home or at a restaurant, enjoying a special time of “adults only” conversation. Include these guidelines: (1) parents reserve space a week ahead of time; (2) when checking in their children, parents leave a phone number where they can be reached and sign a permission slip.

© 2002 Gospel Light. Permission to use granted. Excerpted from Early Childhood Smart Pages – Find this book on the Gospel Light Website

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