Context Before Content: The Powerful Partnership of Parents & Teachers

During American Education Week, we celebrate all of the people who devote their lives to the education of our nation’s children. This is no simple task. In our country, this magnificent conglomeration of 50 unique states, we educate everybody. Everybody. The rich, the poor, the spoiled, the starving, the abused, the gifted. No  matter what house you live in, or language you speak, or what your special needs might be, we want you at school. Come on in, we want you to learn.

Our school teachers are AMAZING. They are working insanely long hours, from long before students arrive in the morning until long after they leave at night. On ridiculously small salaries, and no such thing as “overtime”, they are giving their lives for the benefit of our kids. How do we even begin to thank them?

For starters, say thank you. Tell them you appreciate what they do. Something specific that they do, something you’ve noticed. Smile at them. Make a joke. Compliment their classroom. Gifts are so kind, but a thoughtful word of thanks can be the one thing that keeps us all from quitting!

A phrase used often in education circles, “context before content,” is a reminder that nothing that we learn has any meaning unless we first understand the context in which it is relevant.

For example, it would be ridiculous to make a child memorize the letters of the alphabet before they have been shown and read a book. That would be teaching content (the skill of letter recognition) before any context (the experience of reading and enjoying books). Not only is that flat and joyless, it’s simply backwards.

When a child is read to, over and over, and experiences the joy and magic of entering new worlds through books, they feel how powerful and desirable reading can be. Then, the excitement of noticing letters within those books and uncovering the “code” of written language becomes an endeavor of greatest importance! Learning to read (the content of school curriculum) follows naturally, and it is filled with joy and excitement, because the context was established first.

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As an early childhood educator, I can tell you that there’s one secret that every teacher knows. We can’t do much of anything without the parents. So I would like to speak for everyone, and thank YOU, parents.

Thank you for being your child’s first and most important teacher. For plopping your fat babies on your laps and reading them books every night before bed. For reading the same book for the fourteen-thousandth time, thank you. You’re instilling a love of reading, a gift through which your child can go on to learn ALL things.

Thank you for going for walks with your kids, and taking the time to talk to them about what you see out in the world. Thank you for letting your child stomp in those rain puddles, and dig in the sandbox, and hike in the woods, and skip rocks in the river. The way you pointed out those colorful leaves and let them stare over the bridge at the creek below? You’ve just planted the seed of science and inquiry.

A child who wonders is a child who asks questions and seeks answers. THAT is a learner.

Thank you for turning the T.V. off sometimes, even though your kid throws a fit and it would be a whole lot easier to just give in. In the absence of screen entertainment, your child’s imagination can blossom, and he will learn to take initiative and follow his own ideas. That entrepreneurial spirit will take him so far!

Thank you for feeding your kids breakfast in the morning, and wrangling them into some clothes. Kids can’t concentrate and learn when they are hungry and cold.  We appreciate your morning efforts. We know how stressful and difficult it can be to accomplish!

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Thank you for reading parenting books, and joining online communities of parents, and seeking out information on how to raise your kids. We know there isn’t much time, and we know there is a lot of conflicting information. No matter which parenting strategy you chose, we know you’re trying your best, and your efforts really do make a difference.

Those online classes you take after the kids are in bed, the way you try to control your anger and choose your words carefully, the time you take to go to church and the gym. Thank you for modeling to your child how to be a healthy, loving, successful person.

Thank you for the way you are always working towards becoming a better person. Those online classes you take after the kids are in bed, the way you try to control your anger and choose your words carefully, the time you take to go to church and the gym. Thank you for modeling to your child how to be a healthy, loving, successful person. And thank you for apologizing when you mess up. No one’s perfect. Thank you for saying yes when you can, and saying no when you have to. For finding that balance between freedom and responsibility, authority and relationship, rules and dreams.

Thank you for putting your child to bed, singing songs, bandaging wounds, picking rice up off the floor, washing hair, scrubbing toilets, loading dishes and clothes in their respective washers, buying groceries, wiping noses, and making doctor appointments. None of these things are glamorous. Most of them go unnoticed. But without them, without the work YOU do every day, our work is in vain.

It is because of your love that your child is able to love others. It’s because of your protection and provision that your child is able to feel safe enough to venture out into the world and try new things. You build the foundation upon which all of your child’s future education experiences hang.

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You, parents, are the context. Everything you do is the context. You are setting the stage upon which your child’s education will build and grow. All of your seemingly invisible work and unnoticed efforts are contributing to your child’s future in ways that are impossible to fully grasp. So during this Education Week, while we offer encouragement and gratitude for the incredible work that educators do, may we also acknowledge the irreplaceable partnership between teachers and parents.

Thank you, parents, for being your child’s lifelong teacher.


Lianna is a homesteading mama of three: a sparkly seven-year-old daughter, a joyful five-year-old boy, and a confident three-year-old boy. After graduating from the University of Iowa’s college of education, she started Wondergarten Early Enrichment Home, a multi-age, play-based early childhood program. A self-proclaimed Queen Dabbler, she has a long list of hobbies (from gardening and canning to sewing and painting), and doesn’t mind being only mediocre at all of them. She lives with her husband, mother, three kiddos, dog, cat, rabbits, dwarf goats, and chickens on an acreage in the country. The Cornally family spends their time talking about education, learning how to grow and preserve their own food, and romping around in their woods.


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