Policy vs. practice

There is a new director at Charlie’s daycare center. A well-educated, very experienced woman named Bessie Liang who has not yet done a meet and greet with parents but who sent around a letter outlining all of her numerous accomplishments. (I’ve Googled her with no results so I only know what she told us in the letter.) She’s much more formal than the last director, but says her door is always open. So, with the new school year coming up, I made an appointment to sit down and get to know her. I had things I needed to discuss.

I have visited Charlie every day since he started at FedKids. At first, when he was only four months old, I would spend two or three hours there, happy to rock him to sleep, change his diaper and hold him close. My employer was kind enough to give me this flexibility, as long as my work was done (usually on the weekends, late at night or while Charlie napped). As he’s gotten older, the visits have become more playful and a little shorter. But we still spend a good hour or so stacking blocks, dancing to Old MacDonald, reading books, rolling on mats, eating snacks or playing with his friends. (I love to see how he interacts with other babies. They are like little monkeys, thrilled to make big noises and laugh at each other’s bodily contortions.) It has become very important to me that I be a part of Charlie’s day at the center. I like to know what he’s experiencing, to meet his friends, to see how the teachers play with the kids and interact with each other. What I have noticed, and have been very concerned about, is that the teachers in the next class, the one he’ll be entering in September, are not as open to daily parent involvement.

Last September the older kids’ head teacher visited the baby class and I took the opportunity to ask her about parent visitation in her class. Charlie was only six months old, but I am notorious for thinking ahead. (Sometimes much too far ahead.) When I asked if parents visited her class, she looked horrified. “No,” she said, and then when she saw my expression she added, “except for Eric’s mom, because he’s used to it.” I have been mulling over her answer ever since, trying to figure out how I was going to continue to visit Charlie every day, not just on special occasions like birthdays and picnics. FedKids is a daycare center, after all, and not a school. He is not yet one and a half and not yet at the age where I have to take a step back.

The daycare center’s official policy is “open door,” which means that parents are allowed to stop in at any time, for any reason. We would not have chosen this center if it had been otherwise. But there is a big gap between an open door policy and an open door practice. For the baby room, teachers welcome parents. We provide an extra set of hands to keep little ones busy. In older classrooms, at least the next one up (one- to two-year-olds), the teachers are not as open. They have a set schedule of playtime, singing time, lunch, snack and nap. I have overheard many informal comments that let me know they don’t prefer parent interaction (or what they might call interference). Their argument is sound in some ways. Kids in this age group have strong anxieties about schedule interruptions and separation. For a child with strong emotions about separation, it would be very hard to say good-bye twice in one day, and most parents don’t want to go through that. But Charlie is used to my visits. We play. He shows me his pictures and shares his snack. Then I set him up with a friend, or a new toy, or a banana and he’s good to go. If he cries at all, one hug from a teacher and a little distraction is all he needs to keep him happy. So, for me, the benefits of being a part of his day far outweigh the potential “disruption.” However, it’s really hard to take part in the class every day without teacher support. I need them to welcome me, to include my visit as a regular part of his daily schedule, and to offer that hug if he does get a little upset. Without their back-up, it doesn’t work.

And so I have been stewing. Plotting and planning and reviewing my schedule, reviewing the daycare schedule, canvassing other parents whose kids are moving up with Charlie. Many of them visit every day like me—-What do they think of this attitude? Several of them want to visit. (Others don’t have schedules flexible enough to allow for that since the kids nap during normal lunch hours.) Some have spoken to the teachers, who are a different set of three than the ones I originally spoke to when Charlie was younger. One teacher said that since the policy was open door, they wouldn’t say no, but… Well, but is not good enough for me. Another teacher (my favorite of the three who I will give special gifts to because I love her style with the kids) didn’t say no, or even not-no-but. She said the best time to visit would be after nap/snack time. I have taken this to heart and will be visiting the class at that time. The teachers just don’t know it yet because our transition meeting isn’t until Friday. I’m eager to reveal my plan.

Which leads me back to the director. The first advancement of my agenda: meeting with Bessie to scope out her support, or lack thereof. I met with her on Monday. Since she just started in July, she’s still observing, not yet making changes. Her long-term goals are for a Creative Curriculum, which she said was similar to Montessori in that teaching is based on student interest. (So, if this week’s interest is cars, the block area will have blocks with cars on them, story time will include books about cars, playground and art time will incorporate cars—-that kind of thing.) For me, it is most important at this stage for Charlie to learn social and emotional skills, such as compassion, empathy, no hitting/biting/kicking, taking turns and sharing. I’m much less concerned about letters, numbers and colors. That will come. She said the curriculum includes social and emotional skills and that all the teachers will undergo more training to make implementation easier.

(My favorite of Charlie’s new teachers, Renee, is wonderful at this already. She includes the kids in their own care by asking them to hold diapers, name animals that are on their cups while waiting for snack, and by acknowledging their emotions—-“Are you angry right now?” “I’m sorry you’re sad about leaving your Daddy, but I missed you. Let’s play.” She’s also really good at telling the parents stories of what the kids did and experienced throughout the day, and at validating parents’ important role in the classroom. When she subbed for Charlie a few months ago, she would say when I arrived that Charlie had missed me and encourage our time together. She embodies the compassion and respect, for kids and adults, that I like to see from Charlie’s teachers. I was sure to brag on Renee to the director.)

My favorite part of this informative meeting with Bessie was her reaction to the notion of daily parent involvement in the classroom. She was delighted. She said that it was very important for parents to be in the classroom, if they could be. Then teachers could see what strategies parents use successfully with their child, and parents could see what strategies teachers use successfully. Parent involvement, she said, was a great way to close the gap between school and home and provide the best educational experience. I also found out in this meeting that our head teacher is leaving and will be replaced with a new head teacher for the new year. By the time that teacher gets settled in, the kids will be calling me Charlie’s mommy, the afternoon helper.

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One Response to “Policy vs. practice”

  1. Fran Simon Says:

    Hello:

    Teaching Strategies publishes The Creative Curriculum(r) for Infants, Toddlers, and Twos, and The Creative Curriculum(r) for Preschool. If the Director at your child’s center is referring to our curricula, you might be interested in a booklet we publish for parents. It is intended to be distributed through the program to parents to describe the elements they should look for in a highly functioning classroom that implements The Creative Curriculum. It is only available in sets of 10, but I would be happy to send you a complimentary copy if you contact me directly.

    One piece of advice: You might want to ask if all of the teachers have a copy of the curriculum manuals, and when they last recieved training on the curriculum. Training is the key to ensuring effective implementation of any curriculum. Good luck.

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