Most people who choose a career working with young children do so because they love young children. Spending each and every day with a population who makes us smile and laugh, who encourages us to play and get dirty, and who loves unequivocally and with total abandon, is at the heart of why we do what we do. This is the part we find fulfilling and relatively easy.
For some practitioners it is the adult relationships that are difficult. Navigating adult personalities and work styles can be tiring and irksome especially when you are trying to meet the needs of several small children all at the same time. Although we can quibble and quarrel with our colleagues, we must maintain healthy and appropriate relationships with families at all times. Professionals understand that children do not exist in a vacuum. They come to us from a deeply complex context that includes their families, their communities, and the larger sphere of their cultures. Ensuring that all parents feel welcome and included in their children’s program is the job of the teacher and/or the director.
The first and maybe most important way to commit to a culture of inclusivity is to have an “Open-Door Policy” and to make sure that families are aware of it. It is equally important that if a family member does “drop in” that you make them feel welcome. Over the years, I have been in programs that have official open-door policies on paper, but in reality they don’t make families feel welcome. If you are going to talk-the-talk, you have to walk-the-walk.
Most families will not drop in or stop by primarily because they can’t. Their children are in child care because the parents have to work so it is not realistic to think that you will have a program filled with random adults. You won’t.
So how do you encourage volunteer participation in your program? Some programs require a minimum number of volunteer hours throughout the year through fundraising or classroom participation. Others have no requirements but invite families to participate when they are able. You should also pay attention to the fact that different families have different access to resources. Some people have some money. Some people have some time. Some people have some skills. Some people have extremely limited resources but they have an interest in being involved and they simply don’t know how.
Tap into those resources and use them wisely. Help the families with limited resources to find ways to be included. Invite them to arrive 15 minutes early so they can read with their child before work. Orient families to the program and communicate with them while they are there. Help families whose home language is different than English to feel welcome by inviting them to participate in activities that don’t require a lot of speaking or reading and writing.
Most of all, don’t get in the habit of continually inviting the same people over and over. You may end up with a group of volunteers who feel like they are overworked, and a group who feel increasingly disenfranchised from the program.