From the moment they choose a preschool, to the day they see their child in cap and gown, most parents and guardians have one thing on their mind: ‘Did I make the right decision?’
As a leader in early childhood education, it’s your job to make sure parents know the answer is yes.
And chances are, you 100% knew how to do that... until Covid came along.
Since the pandemic hit, families have had to deal with school closures, distance learning, social isolation, and increased anxiety about the future. This intense experience has changed the way parents think about in-school education—and for many, preschool is no longer seen as the safe option it once was.
So, what’s actually changed in terms of parent and child psychology since moving to distance learning? And as children start to return to school, what can you do to provide the reassurance families crave?
In this ultimate guide to creating an awesome parent experience, we’ll share the secrets to developing the kind of relationships parents (and children) need in the post-2020 world. We’ll also share our top parent engagement ideas and tangible tips on how to help families readjust to the new normal.
Last year, the schools of more than 90% of the world’s students shut their doors for weeks or even months due to the pandemic.
And for parents and children who have experienced long stretches of distance learning and social isolation, loss of physical access to ECE environments has had a very real impact on how they learn, play, and engage with their child care centers and preschools.
If you want to bring parents and families back into the fold, start by honoring what they’ve been through. Here’s a quick recap on some of the biggest shifts since moving to distance learning:
As the dust settles on what life post-Covid might look like, it’s no surprise many parents are still feeling scared and uncertain. Try to maintain an open and accepting mindset, and be ready to continue communicating remotely for any parents or guardians who aren’t ready to re-engage in person.
Brendan Pastor, ex-Operations Manager at Educational Playcare (and current Client Experience and Operations superstar here at MomentPath), has an awesome tip for reassuring parents at drop-off:
“At Educational Playcare, when we had a new child start, we made sure to send off the first photo to that parent within ten minutes of them going out the door, so they can see their child is already adjusting. They might have left their child screaming, but ten minutes later they’re playing happily, and they realize they’re fine,” says Brendan.
With the right tools and approach, you can keep the communication with parents going long after drop-off.
If you have a child care app with a secure messaging center, you can easily show parents you’re right there with them by sharing messages, photos and videos once or twice throughout the school day.
“One of the ways we use MomentPath is to communicate with parents about what we're doing with Covid and health and safety,” explains Gigi Schweikert, President and COO of Lightbridge Academy. “We produce small videos etc, that we push out to parents through MomentPath, so parents get education about masks, sanitization and our screening process. It’s an extremely helpful tool for us to push out our video productions and give parents a visual understanding of what's happening and what we're doing to protect them and their children.”
For obvious reasons, parent communication is now more important than ever. But even after things return to some kind of “normal”, checking in with parents more often is a great habit for your teachers and staff to develop.
“People aren't just 9-5 anymore, and child care needs to respond to the flexibility that parents have now in the workplace,” says Gigi. “We need to utilize technology so parents can balance what's happening with their children and what's happening with their work and feel good about the accomplishments at the end of the day for both—and MomentPath helps us do that.”
Involving families in the day-to-day is the #1 way to build trust and strengthen relationships.
But if you really want to elevate your center’s parent engagement and experience, it’s important to also engage families on a strategic level. For this, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has set out 6 core principles of effective family engagement:
Make sure teachers truly understand and support the children they serve by seeking information about children’s lives, families, and their communities, and incorporating it into the curriculum.
Regular check-ins (like MomentPath’s quick pulse surveys) are a great way to get under-the-fingernails of what families really need culturally, socially, and practically.
After that, it’s all about following up.
Act on the parent feedback you receive, then continue to follow up with regular ‘how are we doing?’ check-ins. By showing families that you not only care about their feedback but also act on it, you can win their trust and keep your enrollment rates steady year-round.
Each family has had their own unique experience during lockdown. Some families lost jobs, people, and their entire sense of security—while others relished in the extra time at home.
There is a spectrum of possibility when it comes to how different families experienced these life-changing events. As an early learning professional, it’s your job to pinpoint the children and families who have faced (and in many cases, continue to face) the most challenges, so you can provide extra care and support.
So, where do you start?
A simple pulse survey can help identify those who’ve been impacted by the digital divide, while a quick teacher-led observational survey can help spot the children and families who need extra support.
SEL is everything post-lockdown.
As Urban Assembly CEO and CASEL Director, David Adams says, “If we were to get every school in this country organized around the principles of social emotional development, students would be able to 1) Relate to themselves effectively. 2) Relate to others effectively. And 3) Solve problems. That is the outcome of a successful social-emotional education.”
And that’s exactly what parents and children need post-lockdown.
If you’re still in the process of creating or updating your SEL curriculum, here are some resources that can help:
Many of today’s parents have conflicting emotions about sending young children back to school—and combined with the very real safety fears that still exist, it’s no wonder there’s a reluctance to get back to preschool normality.
Lead the way for anxious parents by building a parent experience strategy that truly puts family engagement at the center.
With some simple changes, you can reassure parents and make preschool re-entry easy for the whole family.