5 Tips for Teachers - Starting The Year Off Right

Inclusive early childhood education programs enroll children of all abilities and plan to support each child’s individual needs. Use these tips to make sure you’re starting the year off right by setting the stage for ongoing communication with families and supporting all children in your class. 
1) Meet with families before the first day of school. Offer the child a tour of the classroom and school and connect with families to complete enrollment forms together.

By inviting families into your classroom and school before the first day of school, you can set the stage for a collaborative partnership with families and prepare kids to have a successful first day. When we show families that we value their input and partner with them from the beginning, we can build a sense of trust that will lead to more collaborative and supportive conversations throughout the year. When kids have been in the classroom space and have met their teacher before the first day, they become familiar with the space and they are welcomed by a familiar face, which makes them more likely to be more comfortable when they arrive for the first day of school. Completing enrollment forms together with families is a great way to build trust and set an expectation of ongoing communication with families. This can be especially important for families who have children with disabilities or developmental delay. School staff becoming aware of what types of extra support a child may need during the day will allow everyone to prepare ahead of time to make sure every child’s needs are being met at school. It’s also important to let parents know how you will be communicating with them throughout the school year. Does your program use a parent communication app? Will you be checking in with them about updates at pick up and drop off? Sending emails back and forth? Being clear about how you will be communicating back and forth throughout the year can set the stage for a productive and collaborative relationship with families throughout the year.

2) Encourage children to bring a comfort item for the first few days in a new school or classroom.

In addition to letting a child sleep with a favorite stuffy they brought from home, it can feel comforting for kids who are in a new space with new people to have access to their comfort item throughout the day. Having something from home that they can pull out when feeling sad or nervous can be really comforting and can relieve anxiety. In addition to being familiar to touch or cuddle with, the item may even smell like home or like their family, so we can tap into multiple familiar senses, which can be very regulating for a child. Many teachers are hesitant to allow items from home in their classroom throughout the day, out of concern that they might cause disruptions. But if we can let go of this for the first few days, we can support kids in being more comfortable and settling into the classroom more smoothly and quickly. This article from NAEYC has some other great tips for managing separation anxiety at the beginning of a new year.

3) To support children who may be coming to school for the first time, collect family photos and display them in the classroom.

Being able to see the familiar face of their parent, caregiver, or sibling throughout the day can ease feelings of anxiety for kids who are in school or childcare for the first time. There are many ways to incorporate family photos into the classroom. Some teachers put family photos in frames and then use Velcro to attach the frames to the walls at child level, so kids can pull them off the wall and take them with them as they move throughout the classroom. If they’re missing their family, they can take the framed photo with them to the cozy corner and hold it while they read a book with a teacher or do another co-regulation activity. Another teacher chose to create a “Family Tree” on their wall where they displayed families’ photos of all the kids in the class on the branches of the tree. So their class could see all of their family photos displayed on the class family tree together, which also starts to create the idea of the whole group being a larger “family” as they build community within their classroom. Another option is giving kids family photos to keep in their cubbies, so that they can go and access them at any time throughout the day when they might be missing them. Displaying family photos in the classroom that all kids can see can help create an inclusive environment, as kids can see what families other than their own look like. This can create conversation about diversity – all families look different and may have different people in them. Families can bring photos of them wearing traditional cultural dress or eating food traditional in their culture. When we include families with different backgrounds and celebrate these differences, we create an inclusive environment for kids who learn to celebrate diversity and inclusion.

4) Make an “About Me” tip sheet for each child so if a substitute teacher comes into the classroom they know allergies, dietary preferences, and developmental goals and strategies for everyone.

Inclusive early childhood education programs welcome children with disabilities, challenging behaviors, developmental delays, allergies, and medical conditions. In order to meet the unique needs of each child enrolled in your program, having clear documentation of all of these diagnoses and unique needs is crucial. And because it’s inevitable that new teachers and staff will be coming into your class at some point, it’s important to create a brief introduction to each child that includes important things like if a child is allergic to dairy or if they only come Tuesdays and Thursdays, or if they are working how to use scissors or how to give enough space to their friends. All of this information is important to ensure that we are meeting kids’ needs throughout each day, regardless of which educators are in the room. This tip sheet is confidential and can be kept where all staff know where it is - in a teacher space like a cupboard or drawer.

5) Sign up for IMPACT's Partnering with Families: Strategies for Successful Communication to learn strategies to start family partnerships off right this school year!

If you’re interested in learning more about building collaborative relationships and strategies for successful communication with families, check out our online on-demand course and share it with your colleagues!