The idea of parents as children’s first and most important teachers is central to Head Start’s philosophy of working with families. For many parents, this idea suggests the skills they formally teach their children (for example, writing their names, tying their shoes). But teaching also occurs informally as part of everyday family activities.
The purpose of this page is to broaden the idea of “parents as teachers” beyond the instructional role parents play, by looking at the entire family learning environment. In addition, this page looks at ways programs can support family learning experiences as they naturally occur.
Children come to think about themselves as learners by the ways parents interact with them, the values parents impart, the messages parents offer about the world and their place in the world, the stories told by parents, the questions parents ask, and the games parents play with their children.
Many aspects of the family learning environment are easy to observe, such as the materials available for promoting literacy or the topics of conversation between family members. However, some aspects of family learning environments can be difficult to observe directly (e.g., attitudes toward learning) and yet are vital in shaping what and how children learn.
The agency is committed to:
- Provide opportunities to increase parents’ observation skills and share assessments with staff who plan learning experiences in the program.
- Share with parents staff observations of children and discuss with parents their child’s behavior and development.
- Discuss with parents how to create and sustain nurturing, supportive environments in the home and at the program.
- Individualize family partnership agreements that describe family goals, responsibilities, timetables, and strategies for achieving goals (especially related to family literacy) as well as progress in achieving them.
- Provide parent involvement and education activities that are responsive to the ongoing and expressed needs of parents themselves.
- Provide opportunities for parents to enhance their parenting skills, their knowledge and understanding of the educational and developmental needs of their children and share concerns about their children with program staff.
- Provide, either directly or through referrals to other agencies, opportunities for children and families to participate in family literacy services by increasing family access to materials, services, and activities essential to family literacy development.
- Assist parents as adult learners to recognize and address their own literacy goals.