…And here’s Marianne of the Studio’s final post for the season, on how we integrate parent experience in to our Infant and Toddler program here at UCDS.
The Studio program is inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy. At the foundation of the Reggio philosophy are the Image of the Child, Image of the Teacher, and Image of the Parent. In Reggio and at The Studio, children are seen as capable and competent, teachers are co-constructors of knowledge with the children, and parents are advocates for their children and partners with the school. In Reggio, parents are also seen as collaborators with teachers and with the school. In the city of Reggio Emilia (where the Reggio approach began) there is a strong tradition of supporting families with young children, which allows parents and other family members to be part of their children’s daily experience at school.
Over the last eight years and especially in the last four, we have worked to develop, cultivate and articulate our Image of the Child and Image of the Teacher. We have done so through documentation, professional development, observations, and research. The Image of the Parent, though, is a piece of our program that is still evolving. During conferences, we share what is happening in the classroom, and ask for their perspective and insight. At events throughout the year, we learn about families and invite them into our space to celebrate with us. Through our weekly documentation: This Week in the Studio, Journey Books, and wall documentation (all of which chronicle the happenings in the classrooms) we work to bridge the gap between home and school.
Despite all these efforts, we still felt that there was a piece of parent involvement that was missing especially from our ERC Groups. ERC stands for Exploring Relationships and Connections and it is the title we have given to the dedicated time in our program when groups of 4-6 children work together on an in-depth project focused on a specific idea or inspiration. Every week children venture out in these groups to explore, build relationships, and connect through a child-directed and teacher supported exploration. Teachers spend the year closely observing, reflecting, and responding to what the children are doing, wondering, and creating.
We have always shared documentation with parents about the work that goes on in ERC Groups but there wasn’t a way for them to be involved in the explorations. Last year, we made our first attempt to share ERC Groups with families in a more interactive way by holding ERC Night. At ERC Night, parents, families, and friends were invited to take part in a project inspired by their child’s group exploration, watch a video on ERC groups, and share a dinner. (If you would like to know more about ERC Night, please see my previous blog post “Sharing Our Connections.”
The event was everything that we hoped it would be. Parents learned about their child’s experiences, talked with their child’s group leader, and connected with other parents. The only problem was that it felt like it happened a little late. Parents were just realizing what a large role ERC Groups played in their child’s school year, but the year was almost over and ERC Groups were wrapping up. Parents didn’t have the chance to experience the explorations as they were happening or offer any insight or skills that might have aided the exploration. We needed an event in the middle of the year so that parents could experience the work that was happening in their child’s ERC Group and be part of the ERC Group experience. We decided to hold a Parent ERC Night.
On March 10th, teachers and parents met in the Teacher Education Center for Parent ERC Night. Each of the teachers had a project for the parents of the children in their ERC Group. Unlike ERC Night where parents simply participated in a project, parents were asked to create something for the group. By creating something for the group, we felt that parents would become part of the exploration. The night started with a Happy Hour where parents had the chance to mingle and socialize. Our director, Katie Walters-Krohn, gathered everyone together and welcomed them to the event. I shared a video to show what each ERC group was working on.
The parents were next led to their projects by their child’s ERC Group leader. The Neighborhood Group made a scavenger hunt for the children by drawing and writing clues about places in the neighborhood. The Cooking Group made aprons for their children to use during cooking projects. The Ball Group constructed a ball wall by sanding down pieces of wood, attaching magnets, and fastening gutters. The Caregiving Group wrote a book about their children’s experiences called “How to Care for Babies.” The Singing Group made a video of the parents recreating their children’s last meeting. During the night, we heard from so many parents about how much their child loved their ERC Group and that being a part of Parent ERC Night had helped them to see why this aspect of our program was such an important part of their child’s school experience.
In the months following Parent ERC Night, we heard of parents and children having more conversations about ERC Groups as they came to and left the Studio. The children were delighted to receive “gifts” from their parents for their ERC Group explorations. During meetings, the children talked about what their parents had made and each of the ERC Parent Night projects moved the exploration forward in a meaningful way. When the parents attended ERC Night on May 12th there was a new level of investment. They were interested to learn what happened in the group since Parent ERC Night. The conversations between parents and ERC leaders felt easier because they were a continuation of Parent ERC Night.
As The Studio continues to grow and develop, we sometimes feel like we are collecting puzzle pieces for a puzzle whose final picture we haven’t seen. The puzzle of Exploring Relationships and Connections groups started seven years ago when we decided to intentionally facilitate explorations for small groups of children. We added a new piece when we formalized the groups by naming them the Exploring Relationships and Connections groups and creating a curriculum development role which supported teachers in planning and documenting the groups. The next piece was ERC Night where the work that went on in ERC groups was honored and celebrated by families and teachers. This year, we found what might be the final piece in Parent ERC Night. Parents are now part of their child’s exploration, they have the opportunity to contribute to the groups, and learn about what their child’s group is doing. We can finally see the completed ERC Group puzzle and it looks wonderful.