Parent circles can be formed in different configurations depending on the size of the local student population or common issues. Sometimes it makes sense to have parents of several grades meet together (for example, kindergarten through third grade, or fourth and fifth grades), while other times it may make sense for parents of a particular grade to meet alone.
Choosing a meeting time that is convenient for working parents maximizes participation for those interested. Some parents choose to attend on alternate occasions: One month one parent attends, the next month the other one can.
A guidance counselor or teacher can be an asset to a parent circle; they can share information about the school’s culture and describe an age group’s developmental aspects. On occasion, guest speakers could serve as resources to share their experiences, knowledge, research or points of view.
The central theme of a parent circle, whether it is organized according to topic or age group, is to provide a structured opportunity for people to connect parent-to-parent. Even if there are no easy answers, a parent can enjoy laughter, understanding and affirmation.
Purposes of a Parent Circle
- Identify assets of their particular community and areas of concern.
- Foster learning about the physical, cognitive and emotional development of children at each age and stage.
- Identify common needs, interests and changes at different ages.
- Share information about resources in the local and greater community (helpful books, movies, activities, research and Web sites).
- Share a variety of practical strategies.
- Alert each other to potential risks, dangers, and problems or trends.
- Raise common issues and dilemmas.
- Brainstorm about potential solutions.
- Think about current issues arising in the schools and the media.
- Describe challenging situations, explore ways of handling them, and consider the real effects of each approach (advantages and disadvantages).
- Support each other in efforts to “stand up against” undesirable cultural influences.
Parent Circles Can Provide Vital Support
For many of our ancestors, extended family lived near by and could be counted on to help with childbirth, business ventures, meals, childcare, doctors’ visits, illness, education and even wet-nursing. But in our mobile society, we find ourselves living far away from parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. As an increasing number of women join the work force, the informal traditions that connected us, such as the “coffee klatch” — a place to chat about children and parenting issues, among other things — have fallen by the wayside.
One way to build community and help each other support our children’s development is to form “parent circles” in our schools.
In her efforts to promote community involvement in raising children, Jacquelyn G. Sowers, M.Ed., an educational consultant based in Hampton, N.H., uses the symbol of the Native American dream catcher to introduce the concept of a parent circle. The dream catcher is an intricate web of strands woven into a beautiful circular pattern and placed above someone’s bed. Its purpose is to catch bad dreams before they reach the person sleeping. Another image Sowers invokes to capture the spirit of a parent circle is the trampoline — parents circled around a trampoline with arms outstretched, ready to catch the child bouncing in the middle.
By meeting regularly in informal yet structured groups, parents can create webs of information, knowledge, communication, caring and encouragement to support themselves and their children.