Teachers who are beginning their first projects often wonder how to inform the parents of their students about this new way of teaching and learning. Parent support for project work can provide many benefits, so it is important to make sure that they understand what a project is.
Teachers report that once parents and other family members begin to understand how projects work, they are often eager to make contributions. For example, they may suggest a site for a field trip, volunteer to share their expertise as a guest expert, or make a connection with someone they know who can serve as the guest expert. Parents can be a great help on field trips, and helping out with projects is one way that parents learn how projects work. Parents also like to contribute materials to projects. Sometimes parents have access to special materials related to a particular topic of study. When the topic of study is likely to be part of the everyday lives of most families, the opportunities for parents to contribute materials and resources is increased. For example, when one class did a project on backyard insects, parents and extended family members were able to bring insects into the classroom to share with all the children.
There are many ways to inform parents about the Project Approach. Here are a few options:
- Send a letter to parents before the beginning of the school year telling them that your class will be doing project work and offering a simple explanation of how projects work. See: sample letter.
- Hold an informational meeting for families and provide a simple overview of the Project Approach through a visual presentation. See: sample Power Point presentation. Consider showing parents examples of project work from other teachers’ classrooms. The Horse Project is one example of a project from an Illinois classroom.
- Provide parents with regular updates on the progress of your project and explain how it is enhancing children’s learning. Let them know how they can help out. For example, one teacher sent a weekly newsletter home with children and always made the lead story a report on the progress of the project.
- Offer a sign-up sheet for those who would like to receive electronic versions of the newsletter. This strategy can help news about children’s project work reach more extended family members. Newsletters that are sent electronically can provide links to information about the Project Approach.
- Don’t wait until your project is completed to display documentation of your children’s project. Display documentation of the project as it develops. This documentation can be as simple as posting a child’s drawing and attaching an explanatory note or posting a list of children’s questions about insects and attaching a note that explains how you plan to help them find the answers.
- Talk it up! Take advantage of your interactions with parents to mention their child’s participation in project work. This interaction provides a way to inform parents about how projects work and to emphasize their child’s strengths.
- Prompt children to tell parents about their project investigations.
- Create parent-child activities that add to the breadth and depth of the project. For example, during the insect project described above, the teacher created a survey of backyard insects for parents and children to complete at home.