© Blog First Steps, IDB’s Social Protection and Health Division

by Patricia Jara


Original picture by Curt Smith

This is a common reaction from parents who are less than enthusiastic about getting involved at the child care center that their children attend. Considering how important it is for the family to be actively involved in the child’s development from an early age, we need to rethink the dynamics of parental involvement at daycare centers and preschools. But why is this so important?

Attending nursery school on its own does not guarantee the achievement of good results in terms of a child’s development and learning. Both the quality of the service delivered at the center as well as the role of the home are essential components of that experience. Daycare centers and preschools can either expose children to greater risks or protect them by generating beneficial effects. And of course, the parents and the home environment still play a predominant role, regardless of the amount of time children spend at child care centers. The relationship seems simple: the higher the quality of the interventions, the greater the effects seen in children in different areas of social and cognitive development. Quality is linked to the type of relationship that the center establishes with families.

This is particularly important in low-income households. Educational interventions in early childhood help enhance children’s development to the extent that they receive the additional stimulation they need. The most successful and best-known models combine child care services outside the home with some intervention targeted at the parents. This allows for a more comprehensive approach to be taken with children and their families in order to make a greater impact, especially when centers work with an appropriate curriculum and provide stimulation in addition to care.

Getting parents involved in center activities and targeting these activities at parents to model attitudes and activities that they can carry out at home with their children can contribute to this goal. For this reason, it is recommended that center-based interventions include some form of family support and parent education to complement direct work with children.

In this regard, Chile has a long way to go. In spite of well-known programs such as Conozca a Su Hijo [link in Spanish], it seems necessary to reinvent the form of service delivery at daycares and preschools, not just to make room for parents and caregivers but also so that they can be part of the larger educational process that includes the stimulation, growth and development of their children. Consistent with this objective, the current government’s program recognizes the importance of supporting the family to ensure that it properly fulfills its role, and it is committed to developing a Policy for the Strengthening of Parenting Skills [link in Spanish].

The plan for early childhood education reform explicitly mentions the task of creating a policy that allows families to participate and collaborate in the educational process and in decision-making regarding their children, incorporating guidance, strategies and actions to ensure regular contact between schools and families.

This is no small challenge. It means not only modifying certain practices at child care centers but also generating concrete opportunities for that regular contact to be meaningful. And the goal? The goal is that the next time parents have to attend an educational activity at their child’s daycare or preschool, that their natural reaction is “Great! I have a parent meeting at my kid’s preschool.”

Do you think other countries should consider similar policies? Share your opinion in the comments section below or on Twitter.

Patricia Jara is a sociologist at the Social Protection and Health Division of the Inter-American Development Bank. Her job focuses on policies and programs targeted to populations living in situations of vulnerability.  

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