Moving to a new place is an exciting, exhausting and anxious time for a family – and one that many military families experience often. Everyone is eager to settle in, make new friends, and get familiar with their new community. If a family will be enrolling children in a child care program, they just may have found the quickest route to getting connected and comfortable! Child care professionals are in the perfect position to help children and families get to know the people and places in their new community.
Connect Them to New Friends
There are lots of options available to child care providers and programs who want to step up their welcoming efforts. Lauri Troutman*, a veteran child development and education professional with over 20 years of experience working with Navy families, shares what her program does to help families quickly feel more at home:
Our military child care program serves both military and DoD civilian families. Many of our new parents don’t know anyone in the area. We connect them with families who know the area well so they can tell them about the best parks, beaches, children’s playgrounds, children’s clothing and used item stores, babysitters and more. This is a volunteer buddy system that the parents are happy to do for the new families. Simply place a sign-up sheet and brief explanation and you will usually get volunteers and can keep a list on file so you can make the connection right away.
Connect Them to Their New Community
Another way that child care programs can support new military families is to put together a “Welcome Packet” that each new family is given as soon as they are enrolled. Consider asking your current families to help come up with the items that are includes. They’re your best source of information for what new families most want to have! But just to get you started, here are a few ideas:
- Information about the child care program, including a calendar of upcoming events;
- Information about the military community that may not be in the official information they’ve been given but that your parent advisors know is helpful;
- Information about the civilian community and surrounding area (gather tips from parents and check your local tourist office or chamber of commerce, if available, for materials that they may have);
- Coupons and freebies from local businesses, especially those that would be useful to families with young children (check with your local Chamber of Commerce and, if applicable, with the installation family support services office first to see what they already may have in place for new residents); and
- (especially for the kids!) a “scavenger hunt” with photos of fun, interesting family-friendly places around town to find! Be sure and enlist the help of the children and parents already in your program in identifying the items that are “must-haves” on the list!
Connect Them to their New Child Care Home
And finally, let’s not forget about feeling comfortable in the child care setting itself. Some ideas that can make the transition smoother for parents and children are:
- Invite each new family to visit the program before their actual start date, and to stay for at least a couple of hours (which should include some free-play time, a snack or meal, and a group activity of some kind).
- Put together a “Welcome Book” photo album that you can send home with each new family prior to their first day (this could also be an online photo album or “virtual tour”). Some suggestions of photos to include:
- main areas of the classroom (include “routine” spaces, such as the bathroom and the child’s cubby as well as play spaces);
- toys and activities that are big draws for most kids;
- the classroom during important times of the day (such as lunch and outdoor play); and
- the teachers (don’t forget to print their names!).
- Include some text that explains something about each shot. Remember, the intent is to reduce the child’s “first day jitters” by making the child care environment more familiar and inviting.
- Allow the child to attend for half days for the first week, or some other partial schedule.
- Encourage the parents to hang around for as much of this time as they can. Not only will it help the child feel more secure, it will also provide more opportunity for parents and teachers to get to know each other.
Those are just a few ideas for helping new families in your program quickly feel at home in their new community. If you have more ideas, please add them in a comment – we’d love to hear them!!
*Lauri Troutman is a manager of a Navy Youth Center/Boys & Girls Club, and a former teacher/administrator with experience in both center-based and home-based care. Many thanks to Lauri for letting us use her brilliant ideas in today’s post!
P.S. Lauri shared her ideas in a discussion in our LinkedIn Group, Early Care and Education and Military Families. You’re welcome to join us there to discuss a new topic each week.
Written by Kathy Reschke