Preschool is often the first schooling experience that children have. My classroom team and I often hear excitement as well as fear from families when their child is registered and ready to start school. Families fear their child will not be able to tell them what they did at school, they are fearful of the bus, and how their child will be around the other children in the class. Parents and caregivers express concern about their child running away from the playground, going for walks, and they want to be sure their child has many opportunities to be with typically developing peers. We want to decrease stress and anxieties by giving them all of the information about the classroom and keeping ourselves calm.

Communicate Often

The start of communication is including the families when gaining information on their child. They are the experts! Giving value to the families and showing that I care helps create a rapport and sense of trust with one another. I enjoy asking questions and listening to them to see where they want our help. If I am unable to answer any questions or address their concerns, I will surely guide them to someone who can.

When students start in our classroom, I ask the families which type of communication is best for them. My team and I want to work with the families and make it easiest on them. I talk with the families to find out which daily communication sheet they would like to receive and if they want to write a note to me each day. The main types of communication that we use in my school district are:

  • Class Dojo: a communication tool that teachers, students, and families can use every day to send photos, videos, and messages.
  • Phone calls: I am sure to use my school phone number so that I am not handing out my cell phone number. My school number and extension are also listed on many forms and notes that I send home so the families can access it easily.
  • Emails: I always email families from my school’s email address. 
  • Daily communication sheets: I use The Autism Helper daily communication sheets or spiral notebooks which are sent back and forth in the backpack. Families can choose which communication style is best for them. 

Starting Communication Off Right

When communicating with families, I am warm, positive, and open minded. Starting in my classroom is often our students’ first schooling experience. I reassure families of our classroom schedules, the accommodations and modifications listed in their child’s IEP, the classroom structure, my background, who our team members are, and our contact information. I use The Autism Helper Home School Communication Sheets in order to communicate daily. I make time and try to fill these out during snack time, 1:1, or a small group if a student is absent. My paraprofessionals also me get these filled out and into each of our learner’s folders to take home. I think it is important that families know what their child did each day.

These forms also initiate conversations when a child gets home. Parents and caregivers can use the communication sheets to ask prompting questions, and each learner can use them as visual prompts. The Autism Helper communication packet also includes forms that can be sent home for families to send back to school each day to let us know how their night and/or morning was. I continually remind families that they can contact me at any time and the lines of communication are always open!

Share resources and send materials home

We want our families to carry over lessons and work on generalization of skills from school to home. My team and I create materials for in the home whenever families need. When a family mentions that bedtime is a struggle, or their neighbors are knocking on the door and interrupting learning, I always ask them if they would like help. Asking first opens the lines of communication and I can get a feel for what they need. Are they asking for resources and supports? Do they just need someone to talk to? I am more than happy to create materials and send them home. This helps both our learners and their families gain independence and often times reduces frustrations. I am open and aware of how families are feeling. If they are overwhelmed or  mention that there is too much being sent home, I will give myself a note about their concerns and check in at a later time. I remind myself that not everything has to be done immediately, and it is okay to take a note, and check back in!

Heather Hoeft
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