National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1509 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036. Tel: 202-232-8777; Fax: 202-234-6415; Web site: http://www.journal.naeyc.org; e-mail: email@example.com.
Information Analyses; Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Working with families is one of the most important aspects of being an early childhood professional, yet it is an area in which many educators have received little preparation (Nieto 2004). Teachers spend hours learning about child development, developmentally appropriate practices, health and safety, playgrounds, and play. At times it seems that teachers focus on children as if they appear from nowhere, land in their classrooms, and merely disappear at the end of the day. Teachers may ignore the settings in which they spend their time away from the classroom, believing they are not very important. In fact the home environment greatly influences what goes on in school. Much has been written on parent involvement (Ginott 1965; Henderson & Berla 1981; Epstein et al. 1997), and the literature includes a growing number of references to family involvement (Birckmayer et al. 2005; Crosser 2005; Diss & Buckley 2005). However, a limited amount of research (Bredekamp & Copple 1997; Couchenour & Chrisman 2004) directly addresses understanding of family systems as a key component of early childhood education. To serve children well, teachers must work with their families. To be effective in this work, teachers must first understand families who are diverse in ways such as culture, sexual orientation, economic status, work, religious beliefs, and composition. Single-parent families, families of divorce, blended families, extended families, homeless families, migrant families, and gay and lesbian families represent some of the diversity in families that one works with as early childhood professionals. Yet no matter how different families appear to outside observers, all have certain characteristics in common. Families just show them in different ways. This article asserts that examining these characteristics helps educators engage families in ways that foster optimal child development.