Get Parents Involved with Child Portfolios

All good child care programs work hard to encourage children’s learning, growth and development. It is what parents demand and what good early childhood teachers are passionate about.

We all have a child’s best interest at heart, but getting parents and teachers to really talk to one another and understand the child from one another’s point of view can be a challenge! In fact, many teachers would argue that it is a challenge just to get many parents to get involved at all beyond pick-ups and drop-offs.

Child portfolios can help. Yes, portfolios are a great way to assess a child’s progress throughout the year, and yes, they do require effort on the part of teachers, but if the idea of portfolios as a tool of “authentic assessment” scares you, take a step back and think about them as a parent communication tool.

In the article “Reflective Portfolios” researcher and preschool parent Amy F. Smith says:

A somewhat unexpected benefit of the portfolios in this preschool classroom was the way in which the portfolios encouraged parent participation. The portfolios, prominently displayed at the manipulatives center, often served as an icebreaker for parents who visited the classroom. They could “do” something besides observe their child. Furthermore, if a child was having difficulty separating from a parent, or wanted some special attention, the portfolio provided an avenue for one-to-one conferencing, as well as a focus on all the things the child could do.

If you are keeping portfolios for assessment purposes, make them accessible to parents. Seize the opportunity to connect with parents. Invite them to look through their child’s collection at any time. Don’t worry about whether or not the official write-ups are done. You can save that for the parent conferences.

If you don’t keep portfolios, consider starting with these simple baby steps:

  • Chose a visible area of the classroom (entrance wall, shelf or cabinet) to devote to displaying things for parents.
  • Take pictures of your children in action and write up a little caption for each picture that you decide to display.
  • Encourage children to leave special artwork or projects on display. Have children dictate something about why they like this particular piece of work.

Once you become comfortable with the process of collecting portfolio pieces it is easier to take the next step of really documenting what children are doing and finally using this documentation to show and assess a child’s progress throughout the year.

I believe portfolios are a great tool for showing a child’s progress no matter what their age. World of Wonder’s Infant and Toddler kits for center-based programs include information, forms and tips for creating and using your own portfolios, as do our Terrific Topics kits for preschool.

If you want to learn more about using portfolios check out this article, referenced above: Reflective Portfolios.

If you are a director or policy maker and want to understand why portfolios are such a great assessment tool, see this information put out by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Do “Smart Toys” Make Smart Kids?

Watch just a few moments of TV during a “family friendly” show, or take a stroll down any aisle in a toy store and you are sure to encounter a “smart toy”. They run on batteries or plug in. They beep, speak, light up, play music, wiggle around or react in some way to your child as he plays, and the manufacturers can’t talk enough about how their toy will make your child smarter.

Babe has one of these toys. It’s a battery operated ball that wiggles and rolls by itself, singing a tune with lights flashing as it goes. It was given to him with the best of intentions- he was a very late crawler, and this toy was designed to inspire babies to crawl. Great! He pushed a few buttons, watched it wiggle around with an amused look on his face and then turned his attention to other things. It never inspired him to crawl. He never really played with it much, and never for very long. With this “smart toy” He learned to:

  • push buttons
  • watch something go

In contrast, he’s got a set of stacking cups that he is constantly pulling out of the toy box. He stacks them, nests them and tries to fit different objects into them. He pours small things from them, pretends to drink from them and hides things under them. His 4 year-old sister also loves to play with them and the two of them will even use them together. With these simple cups he’s learned to:

  • develop motor skills- grasp, stack, pour
  • develop spatial sense and explore size
  • engage in pretend play
  • engage in social play

These cups are a great example of “loose parts”, a term coined by architect Simon Nicholson that is being used more and more in early childhood circles. “Loose parts” are simple objects that have no specific purpose. They are open-ended, so children can use their own imaginations and creativity, impose their own experiences and play in a way that is meaningful to them.

An article in Penn State’s e-newsletter for people caring for children describes this kind of play:

It is in this free exploration and creation from the child that we can see their concrete ways of thinking and doing, or as the famous psychologist Eric Erickson put it, we can see their “natural genius of childhood and their spirit of place.” The cleverness and connections to formal learning that unfold from loose parts is amazing and is a motivation to make sure we include loose parts in our early childhood environments, whether they are a home care, center care, or group home care.

Imagine a preschool child out in the yard with a stick, some rocks and a bucket. She pretends a stick is a fairy wand (she’s been reading fairy books with Mom lately), and she wanders the yard collecting “magical rocks” in her bucket. She discovers the sound the rocks make as they fall into the bucket and she begins counting each “thump”. She thumps the bucket with her wand and begins singing to the beat. They options for play go on and on and she could be busy for hours, learning about the objects in her environment, integrating different experiences and exploring new skills in a way that is meaningful to her.

Now picture the same child inside with a “smart toy”. She presses a button and hears a letter sound, song, or story. She may learn the sound that a letter makes, but how meaningful is the experience? How engaged is the child? Is she learning anything about herself or her world?

To really create meaningful (and educational) experiences for young children, pass over those “smart toys” and encourage your children to explore the all the wonderful “loose parts” they can find around the house and outdoors.