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Parents Come to Kindergarten: A Unique Junior Kindergarten Program for Four Year Olds and Their Families
About Family Involvement Research Digests
Harvard Family Research Project's (HFRP) Family Involvement Research Digests summarize research written and published by non-HFRP authors and/or written by HFRP authors but published by organizations other than HFRP. For help citing this article, click here.
This research describes the implementation and outcomes of a preschool parenting and readiness program for four-year-olds and their families in the greater Toronto area. The researcher followed children into kindergarten the next year, to examine possible outcome effects of family participation in the Readiness Center “Junior Kindergarten” program.
Fourteen “Readiness Centers” implemented early childhood programs, typically of 12 weeks in duration. Each Readiness Center was a school-based program in which parents came with their children. The program brought in services from the community and provided the kindergarten curriculum to parents and children. There were no conditions on eligibility other than children had to be four years of age. Many of the parents who registered their children spoke a language other than English (Chinese, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Urdu, Vietnamese, other).
Most Readiness Centers had 2- or 3-day/week programs; in addition, there was a drop-in half-day program on Fridays. Experienced kindergarten teachers taught in the program using a curriculum based on the literacy and numeracy learning expectations of the provincial kindergarten curriculum.
The Readiness Centers included parent education programs that addressed discipline, routines, health and nutrition, parent support, and local community services. Parents also participated in the daily “lesson” or circle time along with their children and accompanied their children to the various activity centers in the classroom for follow-up or free-play activities. Teachers explained to them the concepts to be taught and how to extend these concepts into the home. In the parent-only activities, community-service representatives provided specific programs based on the requests and needs of the parents in each community.
The Readiness Center data were collected over two years from the teachers and 313 parents. In year 2, child data came from 186 kindergarten children, half of whom spoke English as a second language. Of the children who participated in the study, approximately one third had attended the Readiness Center with their parent in the school the preceding year; approximately one third had not attended the Readiness Center, but had some other form of preschool experience; and approximately one third had no preschool or Readiness Center experience. There were no differences in demographic factors between the children in the Readiness Center and the other groups; the latter serve as comparison groups for the purpose of this paper.
Readiness Center Measures included the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale-R as well as teacher and parent interviews. Kindergarten outcome measures included both direct measures (child interviews and assessments) and indirect measures (teacher ratings on the EDI—a wide-scale developmental readiness index and parent ratings).
Overall, the study showed that participation in the Readiness Centers, with the program's emphasis on family participation, was linked to children's readiness in kindergarten. Children who had attended a Readiness Center with their parent the preceding year performed significantly better on readiness outcome measures in kindergarten the following year than did children with no readiness experience; these findings were even stronger for ESL children.
The results also suggest that this type of program can have significant effects on teachers' perceptions of readiness; readiness is increasingly viewed not as a within-child phenomenon, but rather, as a family-school partnership. Sharing of goals was one aspect of the partnership that developed between teachers and parents. When teachers had insight into parents' goals, they felt they were better able to help parents to meet those goals. ESL parents reported significantly more academic goals for their children and learning for themselves, whereas English-speaking parents reported more socialization goals for their children and themselves.
Teachers reported that their strategies for generating parent efficacy included positive feedback, parent education, and teacher modeling. These strategies correspond to two types of influence that Bandura (1995) identified as having an impact on people's efficacy beliefs, social persuasion, and mastery experiences. Positive feedback persuades parents that their actions have an impact on their child's development, and may encourage parents to try their best and sustain their efforts longer. Parent education workshops and information sessions provide parents with mastery experiences to acquire and implement skills that enhance their child's development. Teachers' modeling of interaction with children was reported less frequently as a strategy, but corresponds to Bandura's (1995) notion of vicarious experiences. Parents who have the opportunity to observe teachers interacting with their children may develop the belief that they can master the skills for successfully participating in similar activities (Bandura, 1986).
Likewise, the program affected parent perceptions. When teachers shared their learning goals for children, and provided strategies for parents to extend learning into the home, parents felt more confident in supporting their children's learning. Parents identified five program components that fostered their confidence: having the opportunity to work one-on-one with their child, the classroom environment, teacher support, the curriculum (especially circle time), and parent education. These components correspond to the types of influence that have an impact on self-efficacy (Bandura, 1995). Bandura's mastery experiences include one-on-one time, the curriculum, and parent education.
In conclusion, the study reported here provides encouraging evidence that a universal approach to readiness for diverse families through parent involvement in the school may have concrete benefits for school readiness among children and parents, as well as for family readiness of schools.
Implications for Teacher Preparation and Professional Development
Teachers who have the opportunity to collaborate with parents, to share goals and insights about the children, gain an advantage in helping their students to achieve. The teachers in this study had no previous training in working with parents; however, they were open to new ideas, welcomed diverse parents into their classrooms by preparing space and providing materials, and were willing to allow parents to observe them in their teaching. An important message for in-service teachers is to be open to the idea of having parents work with them in class.
For preservice teachers, there are unique opportunities for preparation to work in collaboration with parents. For example, in our program in Toronto, teacher candidates have the opportunity to carry out their practice teaching placements in schools where research projects such as this one are underway. These teacher candidates participate in both the research and in the parent participation activities. It is important for teacher educators to include research as well as practical suggestions for working with parents.
This study has shown me that relationship-building between parents and teachers is key to assisting children in learning; one way to develop that relationship is to share goals for one's self and for children. Teachers can also employ a number of strategies to encourage parent collaboration and reinforce their sense of confidence and efficacy.
Bandura, A. (1986). The explanatory and predictive scope of self-efficacy theory. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 4(3), 359-373.
Bandura, A. (1995). Exercise of personal and collective efficacy in changing societies. In A. Bandura (Ed.), Self-efficacy in changing societies (pp. 1–45). New York: Cambridge University Press.
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