Preschool teachers and directors have many opportunities talk directly with families about school attendance. These can include phone calls, letters and parent-teacher conferences. Home visits are good for establishing relationships, but unless asked, don’t dwell on attendance expectations in the initial home visit.
Many preschool programs visit the family home before the school year begins or periodically throughout the year. It’s important that the first visit focus on building a positive relationship with the child and the family. Talk to the children and the parents. Ask about their hopes and dreams for their preschool children, giving them time to share. Ask about expectations and share you own. Don’t make attendance a focus of this conversation, though if parents raise questions, you can share your guidelines or the parent handouts below. Be sure you reach out to parents with good news, as well as problems.
If attendance later emerges as a challenge, you can use a follow-up home visit to talk about solutions.
Before calling parents, decide on a protocol for your program. Do you want to call home after every absence? After two to three absences in a month? Be sure that the call home is a warm, reassuring call, asking about the child’s welfare and if the family needs any help. Some programs are experimenting with texting as a way to interact with parents. It’s important to build a personal relationship.
As text messaging becomes an increasingly popular method of communication, some educators are experimenting with two-way systems in hopes of fostering school-parent communication that can address the relevance of school and attendance. Combined with a good relationship with teachers and other school staff, positive proactive messages may increase parent’s perception of the importance of school, involvement, and attendance.
Families say they often ignore form letters alerting them to their child’s absences, so use mailings strategically to lay out expectations for attendance and continue building a positive relationship. A welcome-to-school letter can include information about attendance policies, and a well-timed holiday greeting can reinforce the importance of avoiding unnecessary absences. A postcard to a sick child can influence both the child and the family.
Regular meetings with families throughout the year provide a great opportunity for discussing attendance. The director or teacher can share the child’s absences and let parents know how their child compares to others in the classroom. If a problem is emerging, the teacher can use the preschool version of the My Child’s Attendance Success Plan and My Family’s Help Bank to help families brainstorm goals for improving attendance and think about who can help.