Young children learn more and progress faster when skills taught in school are reinforced at home. Since studies have found that children with special needs are given fewer early literacy experiences at home than typically developing children, the Read, Play, and Learn!® curriculum seeks to involve parents in all aspects of their child’s education.

Read, Play, and Learn!® recognizes the importance of home activities in fostering language and literacy development in young children and also understands the need for a positive family-school relationship to enhance that process. Teachers are encouraged to invite parents to contribute to class activities, hold workshops for families, and send home handouts on their program’s goals and suggested home activities. The Teacher’s Guide encourages teachers to develop a multi-pronged family involvement component that is tailored to their program’s and student’s needs:

Involving Families in Everyday Activities

Each storybook module contains sample letters you can send home to parents. The letters introduce each story, describe upcoming classroom activities, and suggest activities parents can try at home to reinforce story concepts. Parents also receive a list of the vocabulary words their child will be learning. They are encouraged to use these words at home to promote their children’s comprehension and word usage. A sample letter designed to be sent in the middle of the unit updates parents on activities completed and suggests follow-up activities to do at home.

Throughout the school year, parents are encouraged to record themselves reading each story on audiotape and send the recordings to school. Teachers play each parent’s recording on a rotating basis so that every child will have the chance to hear his or her parent’s voice.

For example, in “The Knight and the Dragon,” parents are asked to contribute paints, seeds (for growing vegetables), cardboard boxes, sidewalk chalk, buttons, and many other supplies for the projects that accompany the story. The sample letter describes the plot of the story and how it emphasizes cooperation as a means of solving problems (the knight and the dragon stop fighting and open a restaurant). The sample follow-up letter updates parents on activities midway through the unit (building a moat, making armor, exploring new textures such as scales and sand) and invites them to a cookout and story reading where parents can hear a story the children have created and observe their artwork in the classroom.

Inviting Parents into the Classroom

Central to the Read, Play, and Learn!® philosophy is that parents and the school are complimentary in a young child’s education. Teachers are urged to invite parents to participate in class activities during the school day, be it reading a story to the class, helping the children prepare a snack with a special recipe, or making books with the children during an art project.

Parents can also help the teacher set up a Family Resource Center by collecting books and toys for the children to check out and take home. Specific items in the center could include a parent-created “book bag” for each individual storybook module. Book bags contain storybook-related items such as the book itself, stuffed animals, puppets, stickers, and suggestions for activities parents and children can do at home. When a child takes a book bag home, parents can not only reinforce classroom concepts but also add items, such as costumes, for all of the children to enjoy after the child returns the bag to the class.

Keeping Two-Way Communication Going

Other photocopiable handouts in the Teacher’s Guide include a questionnaire to help teachers get to know their students’ preferences and family activities, instructions for parents on choosing books and helping their children develop their communication skills. This provides a starting point for good parent-teacher relations from the beginning of the year and allows teachers to understand their students’ skill levels in order to meet their needs more effectively.

Depending on the background and literacy level of the parents and caregivers, the structure of your program, and parental availability, regular communication can take many forms. These include journals or communication notebooks that is sent between home and school to update parents on their child’s progress, brief discussions with individual parents at drop-off or pick-up times, calling with “good news” messages, or in-school conferences or home visits. A weekly newsletter on class activities (sent home with the children) is also suggested.

Sharing Your Program’s Philosophy with Parents

Read, Play, and Learn!® recommends that teachers offer workshops for parents and caregivers on emergent literacy, the goals of the curriculum, and enhancing the literacy environment at home. These workshops are designed to supplement and reinforce the material sent home in handouts. The Teacher’s Guide gives step-by-step instructions for designing a workshop agenda and creative ways to increase parental awareness of early literacy and skill development. Discussions and group activities focus on creating a literacy-rich environment at home to reinforce the one in the classroom. Parents are urged to talk with their children regularly, read books to them, and use everyday experiences (food shopping, fixing dinner) as opportunities to use rich vocabulary and support their child’s language literacy growth.

An essential ingredient of a positive school-family relationship is helping parents and caregivers understand the philosophy and rationale for a transdisciplinary play-based curriculum. In addition to the sample letters in each module, the Teacher’s Guide contains photocopiable sheets for teachers to send home explaining the philosophy and goals of Read, Play, and Learn!® so that parents can understand its benefits.

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