Effective communication with families is key to ensuring a smooth and successful partnership in supporting children's early development. A parent handbook serves as a vital tool in establishing clear expectations, policies, and procedures for both families and staff members.
Whether you're in the process of creating a new parent handbook or looking to improve your existing one, this article will provide you with valuable insights and tips to ensure that your parent handbook becomes an invaluable resource for both your preschool and the families you serve.
What to add to your preschool parent handbook
Every preschool parent handbook will have its differences; however, each one will include a significant amount of important information about your program that is helpful for families to know. Start by making it easy to follow and use for reference—for both you and your families—by including a table of contents section at the beginning.
While the length of these handbooks will vary by program, be thorough and include all policies and procedures, for example, your childcare philosophy, enrollment policies, sign-in procedures, health and safety regulations, emergency procedures, billing policies, and more. As time goes on, you may incorporate new policies or make changes at the start of each school year. Update your handbook whenever you revise any policies or add any new ones, and notify your families of the changes as they happen.
Below, we discuss the sections to include in your preschool parent handbook.
- 1. Introduction and welcome
- 2. Childcare and teaching philosophies
- 3. Operating information
- 4. Enrollment, waitlist, and withdrawing policies
- 5. Sign-in and pick-up procedures
- 6. Sample daily schedule
- 7. Meals, snacks, and additional supplies
- 8. Sick days and schedule interruptions
- 9. Special classroom activity rules
- 10. Codes of conduct and discipline procedures
- 11. Health and safety regulations
- 12. Emergency procedures
- 13. Parent conferences and communications
- 14. Billing policies
- 15. Forms to return
- 16. Acknowledgment and signature
1. Introduction and welcome
Begin with a welcome to families. This section is a great way to stress your commitment to the community and your excitement about what is to come.
Keep this first section short and sweet, but craft it with care. The introduction sets the tone for your center's relationship with families.
2. Childcare and teaching philosophies
Every childcare program has its approach to teaching and early childhood education. Laying out your approach will give families a good idea of what to expect. Share about your curriculum design and how families will learn about their child’s development.
For example, will you focus on academic skills? Are you using a play-based learning approach? This information will help families contextualize what their child learns daily and how their teachers approach learning opportunities and development benchmarks.
Be sure to use language that parents can understand. While you and your staff understand lesson planning and the intricacies of conflict management for three-year-olds, parents may not. One way to approach this section is to detail the specific outcomes you aim for at your childcare program and the best ways to get there.
3. Operating information
This section is an essential reference for parents and staff alike. Include facility hours, care schedules, a calendar, start and end dates, half days, and holiday policies. It's important for parents to know which days they can expect care and which days your center is closed. If you send parents a digital handbook, make the calendar page in a format that is easy to print.
In addition to a calendar, include all of the contact information for your center including phone number(s), email(s), website, child care app(s), and physical address.
4. Enrollment, waitlist, and withdrawing policies
Even if your preschool parent handbook is made available only to registered families, include your enrollment information. Parents may want to reference it to re-enroll their children or to refer another family. Include program costs and eligibility requirements for enrollment.
Include information on your waiting list process so that returning families know, for example, whether certain groups, like siblings, get preference for spots or whether there are early-enrollment windows. Be transparent about when families can expect to hear back from you and how long typical waiting lists are.
With tool like brightwheel, you can make enrollment easier for your families and your center. You can accept online applications and manage your admissions digitally and use waitlists to automatically admit new children to your program.
And because families' best-laid plans can change, ensure your handbook includes withdrawal information. For example, how can parents notify you if they have to move? How far in advance is best? Are families penalized for withdrawing a child? Although withdrawals may be infrequent, laying out this information can make ending a care agreement smoother because everyone knows the proper procedure.
5. Sign-in and pick-up procedures
Laying out your sign-in and sign-out procedures will help make families—especially new families—feel safe and confident. Knowing how everything is supposed to run means parents can prepare their child for the process before they step through your doors.
Don't forget to include information about late and early arrivals and departures. Do you use digital check-in software? How does it work? This is also the time to outline your policies on non-parent/guardian pick-ups.
6. Sample daily schedule
A well-defined daily schedule provides parents with a clear understanding of the structure and routine of their child's day at your childcare center. By outlining specific activities, meal times, nap times, and other important events, parents can have a better sense of what to expect and can prepare their child accordingly.
This consistency helps children feel secure and comfortable in the childcare environment, leading to smoother transitions and reduced anxiety.
7. Meals, snacks, and additional supplies
This comprehensive section covers detailed information about the meals and snacks you provide at your center and any additional supplies that families need to provide.
By outlining the types of meals and snacks offered, ingredients used, portion sizes, and any dietary considerations, such as allergies or restrictions, you can assure parents that their child's nutritional needs are being met.
In addition to meals and snacks, childcare providers often require parents to provide certain supplies for their child's daily needs. Including a clear list of these requirements in your parent handbook ensures that parents are well-prepared and can provide the necessary items without confusion or last-minute rushes. This may include items such as spare clothes, diapers, wipes, bottles, or specific comfort items like blankets or pacifiers.
Clear communication regarding supply requirements sets expectations from the start and allows parents to plan and organize accordingly.
8. Sick days and schedule interruptions
This section can outline your daycare sick policy and your protocol for contacting parents and emergency contacts if a child needs to go home. It's important for families to understand when to keep their child at home and what criteria they must meet to be allowed back to your center. For example, your policy may state that if a child has a temperature above 100° F they must remain at home. Also, include how parents can notify you that their child will not be coming in.
Aside from sick days, include information on your policies regarding weather-related schedule interruptions, such as snow days or flood warnings. How will parents be notified? Include information on half-day or early pick-up procedures, if applicable.
9. Special classroom activity rules
Here is a chance for you to outline any rules about special classroom activities, such as birthday parties or holiday celebrations. For example, can parents bring in treats?
Another activity to cover is field trips. Do you have any trips on the calendar? What are the guidelines, including parent permissions? What happens if a parent doesn't give their child permission?
10. Codes of conduct and discipline procedures
Sharing your codes of conduct with families sets the expectation for how your childcare community members treat one another. By articulating your position, everyone comes in with the same understanding of mutual respect. Outline how you expect teachers to behave toward children and families and children to behave toward teachers and other children. In addition, include how families are expected to behave towards administration, staff, and other families.
In addition, outline any disciplinary procedures for children, families, and staff. While this may be an uncomfortable topic, it's important for your community to know how you will handle a behavioral issue involving a teacher, a parent, or a child. Include information on how parents can expect to be notified of any incidents.
11. Health and safety regulations
Provide all necessary information about health and safety at your childcare center. Include how you comply with state regulations, such as child-to-staff ratios or outdoor playtime, and where parents can check your certifications. If any group accredits you outside a state agency, put that information here.
In addition, include information on your medication policies and procedures. Do you dispense medication at your center? Do you have a required form for parents to fill out? Do you require a physician’s authorization?
12. Emergency procedures
Detail your emergency procedures here, whether it is a weather alert or an accident. Be sure to give information on where your emergency meeting points are if your childcare building is damaged, and be clear about who will contact parents and how they will receive information and updates.
This section is also a good place to outline information on how parents of children with medical conditions, such as severe allergies, can work with teachers to create an emergency plan.
In this section, remain factual. The likelihood of an actual emergency happening at your childcare center is not high, and chances are that your time together will be relatively uneventful.
13. Parent conferences and communication
While your handbook will cover specific cases where parents will be notified or need to contact you, it is worth including a section on general parent communication since your center will connect with parents far more than in the few ways outlined above.
In this section, include the following:
- How often do you expect to meet with parents throughout the year, and when?
- What is covered in a parent-teacher conference, and how can parents prepare?
- How can parents expect to hear routine updates from you? Do you have an app you use daily, or a weekly newsletter, for example?
- How can families get involved to support your program?
- Are parents/guardians able to visit during school hours?
- How can parents contact you with a non-emergency question, comment, or concern?
- How can parents change or update a child's basic information, such as address? Do you have an online system they can log into, or do they need to fill out a form?
Family and staff communication is needed to run a childcare center successfully. Setting the basics in your preschool parent handbook is an excellent way to facilitate that communication.
14. Billing policies
Your preschool parent handbook will be an exhaustive resource for parents to consult regarding your billing and payment policy. Include the following:
- Your pay structure
- Payment due dates
- Late payment policies
- Accepted forms of payment (e.g., by check or autopay)
- Any additional charges parents can expect throughout the year (e.g., for field trips or holiday parties)
- How sick days, holidays, and other schedule interruptions affect billing and payments
Your childcare center is a business; detailing your billing policies will help it run more smoothly. Families will also appreciate having all the information laid out so they can avoid surprises and be prepared when bills are received.
15. Forms to return
Make a checklist of any childcare forms that need to be returned before the session starts, so families can easily see whether they have completed everything necessary for enrollment.
You can include any relevant forms in your parent handbook, but even if you have a separate forms packet, this can serve as a nudge to get everything in.
16. Acknowledgment and signature
At the end of your preschool parent handbook, include a small section that parents can sign and return. This acknowledgment can state that the parents have read and understand your policies and agree to any stipulations you set in your handbook.
Preschool parent handbook examples
The below preschool parent handbook examples can offer inspiration as you create your own family handbook or update an existing one.
1. Crossroads Weekday Preschool parent handbook
The Crossroads Weekday Preschool parent handbook is an example of a handbook done well. The table of contents outlines the important information to communicate to families including their calendar, various policies and procedures, and details on their mission statement and program goals.
2. Scholars’ Academy student/parent preschool handbook
The Scholars’ Academy handbook begins with details on the values and mission statement of the school district and a letter from the school’s principal. Next, the parent handbook is divided into three sections: program design, general information, and the curriculum.
The handbook provides more information on the school calendar, daily routines, and positive behavior systems. An obvious supporter of family involvement, this handbook closes out with suggestions on how the children’s families can become involved in school activities and events to strengthen the child’s educational experience.
3. Berkeley Unified School District parent handbook
For information on enrollment policies, you can use the Berkeley Unified School District parent handbook as a guide. This handbook dedicates nearly three pages to eligibility, enrollment requirements, and guidelines for children and parents.
For example, the Berkeley Unified School District outlines that they enroll toilet-trained children between the ages of two and five. Childcare programs can determine who is eligible to be a part of their program, and this handbook can help guide you in making your decision.
4. Spring Valley United Methodist Church Preschool parent handbook
The Spring Valley United Methodist Church Preschool parent handbook covers specific information regarding the curriculum, absence policy, tuition and fees, and more.
Additionally, their handbook contains a breakdown of teacher-to-children ratios and procedural information on emergency responses. The preschool parent handbook also includes the following sections: licensing, immunizations, discounts, allergy action plan, pets/animals, and field trips.
A thorough parent handbook sets clear expectations for families, fosters collaboration, and provides a nurturing environment for children to thrive. A family handbook serves as a valuable resource that keeps parents informed, addresses concerns, and promotes a strong partnership between providers and families.
With a comprehensive parent handbook in place, childcare centers can lay the foundation for a positive and successful childcare experience, where everyone feels confident, supported, and actively involved in the growth and development of the children in their care.
Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at mybrightwheel.com.