Parent Involvement and Family Engagement in Early Childhood Classrooms

Dear Early Childhood Educators,

Happy Spring!  I hope, wherever you are, you are enjoying the change of season and the final months of the school semester!

Since I began this blog two years ago, one very important aspect of early childhood education I haven’t addressed yet is parent involvement and parent engagement.

Last year, the Office of Head Start introduced the Head Start Parent, Family and Community Engagement Framework. The framework emphasizes the need for early childhood programs to take an active role in encouraging school and family partnerships, especially in the area of parent involvement and engagement in supporting children’s school readiness and success in school.

Research shows that when children have involved parents, the results are very positive, especially over the long term. (A New Wave of Evidence, 2002)

Children who have involved and engaged parents are more likely to:

*Earn higher grades and better test scores.
* Attend school regularly.
* Demonstrate good social skills and behavior.
* Adapt well to the school environment.
* Pass their classes and be promoted.
* Graduate and enroll in higher level education programs.

How can teachers encourage parents to be involved and engaged ?

Henderson & Mapp (2002) suggest the following:

1. Recognize that all parents can be involved in their children’s learning and want their children to do well.
2. Create a program that will help families support and guide their children’s learning.
3. Develop programs within the school to provide staff training on techniques, methods and parent involvement activities that will promote parent engagement.
4. Work to build trusting and respectful relationships between the family, the community  and the school.
5. Establish partnerships and shared power with families, encouraging all to understand the importance of their participation in children’s educational growth and development.

Dr. Epstein of Johns Hopkins University has identified six types of involvement:

1. Parenting – basic parent skills including discipline, setting expectations and providing a home environment conducive to learning.
2. Communicating – contact, both parent and school initiated, relative to student learning.
3. Volunteering – giving time to be involved in school events.
4. Learning at Home – involvement in learning activities at home including homework and extra-curricular activities.
5. Decision Making – participating in school decision making or governance through a parent organization.
6. Collaborating with Community- Coordinating learning with community activities for families.

Some specific examples of ways to encourage parent involvement include:

1. Establish ways for teachers and parents to be in constant communication through a variety of means including daily contact at drop off and pick up of the child, email, telephone, newsletters, parent-teacher conferences and school events.
2. Provide opportunities for parent education and learning by creating parent education workshops, showing educational films, scheduling lectures by experts and  establishing discussion circles or book groups.
3. Encourage parents to observe the classroom in session, volunteer to be a story reader, lunch helper, field trip assistant.
4. Suggest to parents that they join the parent-teacher organizations, fund-raising committees, curriculum study groups and community networking organizations.

Encouraging parents to play an active role in the educational life of their children and establishing effective home-school-community partnerships has shown to greatly benefit the children in their school success.

Are there some specific ways you have found to encourage parent involvement?
How have parents responded?

Best wishes to all,
Dr. Vardin


Encouraging Physical Activity Indoors

Hello Everyone,

I hope you are enjoying the fall season and are having fun preparing for the upcoming holidays!

As the cold weather comes to many parts of the country, often children will have less opportunity to play outside. The question for teachers is how to keep children physically active during the winter months ahead? And, as we are all well aware, obesity and health issues are very important during the early childhood years.

CHAMPS researchers call for more teacher involvement in promoting preschoolers’ physical activity in the classroom to control obesity and encourage good health practices in the early childhood years.

The CHAMPS report found that, in their study, young children participated in a high percentage of sedentary activities when they are indoors during the day.  Classroom activities include nap time, large group, indoor transition, snack, and manipulative time. Although teacher organized physical activity and music exercises, when observed, were related to very high levels of physical activity, very little of the classroom time was dedicated to these activities.

Since physical activity is so important, here are some specific suggestions:

  1. Schedule daily music and movement activities in your classroom. If music and movement are on your daily schedule, chances are those activities will happen versus doing them at random times and days.
  2. Include many large motor movements in the music and movement activities so children can use their whole bodies and move about in time and space with lots of energy.
  3. Include locomotor skills such as running, jumping, skipping, hopping and sliding in your in the physical activities you do with the children.
  4. Music is a great motivator to move. Vary the kinds of music you use to get your children moving and encourage them to fully explore different ways to move.
  5. Explore a variety of ways to move and characters to move about as, for example, elephants, rabbits or dogs.
  6. Add stories to your music and movement activities.
  7. Integrate music and movement with other curricular areas such as literacy or basic math.

Children learn by doing.  A Joint Position Statement from the International Reading Association and the National Association for the Education of Young Children states: “…children are active learners, drawing on direct social and physical experience as well as culturally transmitted knowledge to construct their own understandings of the world around them.”  By integrating music and movement with concepts children are more likely to understand and learn new skills.

There are many CDs that have been developed by artists who also are early childhood educators – their music and movement activities often promote critical skills for young children.  For example, Hap Palmer’s Oh What a Miracle (on the CD “Walter the Waltzing Worm”) introduces body parts and action words with an inspirational song;  Brenda Colgate’s Silly Willy Moves Through the ABCs encourages children to move to the letters of the alphabet and their sounds.  The all-time favorite, Five  Little Monkeys, helps children grasp basic subtraction.

If you work with English Language Learners, music and movement activities help introduce new vocabulary in a welcoming way.

How do you use music and movement in your classroom?  How do your students react to music and movement activities?

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Dr. Vardin

The CHAMPS report is in Child Development, 80(1), pp. 45-58.


Technology in the Early Childhood Classroom

Dear Early Childhood Educators,

Welcome to the Early Education Corner!

And so, it is back to school again for everyone who had a summer break and the beginning of a new term for those of us who ran programs during the summer!

I decided to start this semester’s blog with a hot topic in education – the use of
technology in the early childhood classroom. In the early childhood educator world, I often hear strong feelings expressed about the use of technology with young children, both pro and con.

On October 1, my Early Childhood Education Department is sponsoring a conference, “Using Technology in the Early Childhood Classroom,” at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.  So I thought it might be an interesting topic to explore here.

If you decide to include technology in your classroom, I would like to make some recommendations based on research and experience.

  1. Spend some time learning about all the technological possibilities available for the early childhood classroom before you make a commitment to purchase equipment.
  2. Make sure you factor in the cost of training whenever you obtain new equipment. I have seen many classrooms with fancy equipment left untouched because the teachers did not know how to use it.
  3. Critically review all materials the children will be using such as software or APPS before you let children explore it.
  4. Select technology that is interactive and will challenge the children’s thinking skills and creativity.  For example, some software is simply an electronic workbook.
  5. Make sure the software and APPS you choose do not include violence, sexism or racism.
  6. Integrate the technology with other curriculum areas of the classroom such as math, literacy, social studies and science.
  7. To encourage socialization (and avoid isolation), have children work as partners or in small groups when they use the computer, interactive whiteboard, tables and other equipment.
  8. Limit the amount of time children spend on the computer so they have a balanced school day. Make sure they have daily experiences with hands-on learning materials, art, music and movement, books, and physical activity.
  9. Develop guidelines about how and when the computers, interactive whiteboards, listening centers, etc. will be used for the children and the adults in the classroom.
  10. Teach the children the proper way to use the equipment and make sure someone is available to support them during its use. I have seen children destroy expensive equipment because of the lack of teacher supervision.

Do you use technology in your classroom?  How do the children use the technology? Has it added to your curriculum?   Do you see any problems using technology in early education?

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Dr. Vardin


Quality Physical Education Experiences for Young Children

Dear Early Childhood Educators,

 Welcome to the Early Education Corner!

I hope your school year was very successful and that you are enjoying the warm summer weather!

For those of you teaching summer school programs or beginning to prepare for fall, you might want to review the physical activity goals in your curriculum to ensure that you are providing quality opportunities for young children to stay fit and healthy.

One of my colleagues, Dr. Rhonda Clements, Chair of the Physical Education Department and a Professor at Manhattanville  College, recently brought to my attention a new publication that she helped develop, which, I think, will be of great benefit to early childhood education teachers. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and Playworld Systems, collected 101 tips from early childhood movement specialists to help teachers of young children provide quality physical education experiences in their classrooms and on the playground.

The 101 tips are organized into eleven  best practices principles for creating  an excellent physical activities program for young children.  I have highlighted and summarized some of the main points made in each section. 

 1.      Provide developmentally appropriate movement opportunities

Summary: Appreciate and recognize the importance of movement for young children and the unique ways and differing levels of movement ability of each child.

Provide enough time for physical activity in your program and give children the opportunity to feel success.

2.      Maximize the environment for play

Summary: Play outdoors and indoors, and create optimal movement environments in both spaces. Use music, appropriate equipment and include a wide range of movement experiences, including jumping, twisting, running and dancing.

3.      Be creative with equipment

Summary: Use balls, bean bags, hoops, beach balls, tape as a balance beam, props such as puppets, costumes, scooters and trikes. Use equipment for multiple purposes and teach spatial awareness and spatial relationships in the process. Encourage children to make up their own games.  Note: Music can also encourage and support these activities!

4.      Make safety a priority

Summary: Always provide appropriate supervision. Check that the play space is safe and always have emergency kits and emergency plans available. Use age-appropriate materials and spaces. Help children learn safety rules and use signals such as a horn or music to help children stop their activities.

 5.      Use play to teach social skills

Summary: Use games to help children learn to work together. Also use games that are active such as Duck, Duck Goose.  Through games, show them how to take turns and share.  Support and praise children when they are using good social skills.

 6.      Provide instruction during structured play

Summary: Give simple and clear instructions, include songs for creative movement.

Include walking, marching, jumping, hopping, galloping and sliding as well as bending, reaching, stretching and swaying movements. Give support, encouragement and positive responses to children’s efforts.

 7.      Integrate physical activity into the curriculum

Summary: Use movement vocabulary in your classroom including body parts and physical skills. Use colors, letters and numbers when doing activities with young children. Read books with  pictures that show action.  

 8.      Be reflective and flexible

Summary: After doing movement activities, think about what worked and what didn’t. Take notes about successful strategies.  Ask children what they enjoyed and what they didn’t like. Teach children the names of the games you introduce and provide them with choices.  Modify games with rules to accommodate all children. 

 9.      Talk about and practice healthy eating

Summary: Teach children about the importance of drinking water for hydration and how foods provide energy for movement. Encourage them to taste a variety of foods. Require children to wash their hands before meals.  Model and encourage good table manners.   

10.  Involve parents and families

Summary: Remind parents that children should have appropriate clothing for outdoor play.  Encourage parents to do physical activities with their children and act as active role models. Organize active parent/child events at school.  Send home tips and ideas for healthy eating and physical activities.  Help parents identify safe outdoor environments for their children, and encourage them to incorporate physical activities into their family vacations.

 11.  Employ existing resources

Summary: For additional ideas, look at physical fitness websites, such as:

I hope these suggestions are helpful to you!  Please feel free to send us ideas or activities that you have found useful in your programs!

 Best wishes,

 Dr. Vardin


Week of the Young Child Activities

Hello Everyone,

I hope that you and your students are enjoying the beginning of the spring season!

Each year at this time, early childhood educators celebrate the NAEYC Week of the Young Child, April 10 –  April 16.

This year the theme is “Early Years are Learning Years” with a focus upon the following areas:

  • Raising Public Awareness
  • Public  Policy and Advocacy
  • Reading and Writing
  • Violence Prevention
  • Child Health
  • Creativity

 NAEYC suggests ways for teachers to engage families, businesses, political officials , non-profit organizations and other community groups in activities to heighten the importance of  the early years and the significance of quality early childhood education.

I would like to highlight three of the topic areas mentioned above: Reading and Writing and Creativity.

 Reading and Writing/Creativity

A great idea is to involve families and other members of the community in your literacy program.  Since the creative or expressive arts can enhance children’s ability to learn in subject areas such as reading and writing, I have included some approaches below. 

Any opportunity for young children to hear and respond to stories and to look at books is a great way to support young children’s literacy development. Check out the NAEYC website to see how you can involve the community in early childhood literacy awareness.  

Here are some specific suggestions to promote children’s interest in reading and writing, using some fun and creative approaches:

  • “Mystery Reader” Ask family members to sign up to be a classroom reader once or twice during the year. Make sure each child in your group is represented by someone who will be his or her “Mystery Reader.”   When the “Mystery Reader” knocks at the door, none of the children know who will be the reader that day. They are very surprised and excited when they see that it is a member of their family who is the “Mystery Reader” of the day! All this excitement around the reading experience heightens children’s interest in the activity. 


  • “Book Bag Buddies”   Provide each child with a book bag filled with a couple of read-aloud books, which he or she can take home on a weekly basis. Ask families to read the books at home to their children and to talk to their children about the stories.  Each week, have children in the class exchange the books they have read at home with other children in the class.


  • “Act it Out” Select one of the children’s favorite stories to act out in class. Make sure each child has some role in the play and that the children are very familiar with the story.  Invite family members to see the children in the play.  Simple stories might include The Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, The Billy Goats Gruff, Stone Soup or Andy and the Lion. Add simple props and music to make the play even more fun!


  • “Story Reflection Book” After you read a book to the children, encourage them to comment about the story and ask them questions about it.  Select an aspect of the story or character, and ask the children to draw pictures of it. Then have the children dictate a sentence or two to you about their drawings and write it on their papers. To encourage beginning writing, ask the children to write their names on their pictures and any other letters they are able to write.  Make a story-response book of the children’s drawings and dictations.  Invite community members to attend a children’s “Story Share” day.


  • “Puppet Characters” Ask children to select their favorite story and create a puppet show with their puppets. Encourage children to make up their own stories to act out with the puppets as well. Invite family members or other members of the community to see the show!


  • “Library Explorers”  Schedule trips to the library with the students to participate in the story hour and to browse and check out books. Encourage parents to accompany your class to the library and see what the library offers young children. Ask members of the business community to support library projects with your school such as children’s authors day, special speakers events, or new picture books and materials for the library.


  • “Family Storybook” Ask children to bring photos of their family members and photos of objects that have significance to their family. Have each child create a family storybook.  As the children to dictate stories about their families and the objects they have chosen.  Examples might be a photo of a shawl that their grandmother wore at her wedding in Chile or a guitar that their father played in a high school band.


  • “Music, Music, Music” Many children’s songs are actually stories and poems put to music.  Adding music with storybooks to your literacy activities will further support children’s literacy development.   Look for nursery rhymes that have been made into songs such as Classic Nursery Rhymes  as well as songs that have been made into books such as Old McDonald Had A Farm and The Ant’s Go Marching.


I hope you and your students find ways to celebrate and enjoy the Week of the Young Child with the members of your community!

With best wishes to you,

Dr. Vardin


Highly Successful Strategies to Guide Young Children’s Behavior

Hello Everyone ,

 I hope the new year is going well for you and your students.

If you’ve ever encountered inappropriate behavior (and who hasn’t), you’ll be interested in my newest project.  I have authored and developed a training DVD titled “Highly Successful Strategies to Guide Young Children’s Behavior,” which is published by Educational Activities, Inc.  The DVD shows real teachers using successful behavior strategies with real children!

In numerous surveys, teachers report that classroom management is one of their foremost areas of frustration and concern. I have also had many teachers and students speak to me over the years about classroom guidance issues and how they often seem to get in the way of successful teaching!

Our newly released DVD, which has English and Spanish tracks,  includes many techniques and strategies to help teachers guide and manage young children’s behavior more successfully.   The content includes ways teachers can help young children self-regulate their behavior, develop appropriate behaviors and interact with others in positive ways.

In the DVD, we see many examples of early childhood teachers actually demonstrating guidance strategies and techniques with young children in the classroom.  A manual included with the DVD provides teachers the opportunity to reflect on their own classroom guidance practices and consider questions such as:

  1. Have you ever found yourself with a child who behaves inappropriately in your classroom?
  2. Why do you think children behave in ways that are inappropriate?
  3. How do you handle behaviors that are inappropriate?
  4. What ways have been successful? What ways have not been successful?
  5. What do you do to encourage positive behaviors in your classroom?

I also introduce a style of classroom management that I call the Supportive Guidance Approach.  Teachers who use the Supportive Guidance Approach are warm and caring, but also set limits on children’s behaviors and guide them to more appropriate behaviors.  Examples of teachers using the Supportive Guidance Approach and children’s responses are seen on the DVD.

I also included a list of my Top 20 Supportive Guidance Approach Techniques on the DVD. For example, the suggested techniques include:

  1. Encourage children to use words to resolve their differences.  Help them articulate what it is they need or want rather then strike out by hitting or crying when they are frustrated or upset.
  2. Redirect inappropriate behaviors that children may use by focusing the children on another activity or interest.
  3. Model the behaviors you want the children to show in the classroom.  Encourage other adults interacting with the children to also model good behaviors.

The goal of “Highly Successful Strategies to Guide Young Children’s Behavior” is to provide teachers with a guidance approach that will help them create a positive and enjoyable learning environment for children and teachers alike.

What classroom behaviors do you find the most challenging??  What ways have you tried to help children regulate their own behavior?

What have some of the challenges been for you and your staff?

Best wishes,

Dr. Vardin

P.S. The program is also available as Video Concept Clips, which can be used in your own Powerpoint presentation.