As a trained pre-school teacher I was taught to adopt the philosophy: young children enter early childhood programmes with their families. If there were any social issues such as poverty, or life-style related diseases impacting the family, it would also impact upon the child’s holistic development. Therefore, I learned how to engage parents in tough conversations on societal issues by working in partnership with them, sometimes with the support of specific community organisations, to overcome issues such as poverty. In this article, I will share the practical strategies I used to address the societal issue of poverty or limited socio-economic resources encountered by some families and children. Hopefully, these strategies can be applied to other early childhood programmes within the Caribbean as early childhood professionals frequently work with children and families who are faced with societal issues that could sometimes impede children’s holistic development.
Establish a genuine partnership with parents
The first strategy I used was to establish a genuine partnership with parents. Theoretically, the concept and value of pre-school teachers establishing genuine partnerships with families are owed to the theorists whose philosophical writings have influenced contemporary approaches to the parent-teacher partnership within early childhood programmes. Theories such as Vygotsky’s (1978,1986) socio-cultural theory, Bandura’s (1977) socio-behaviourist theory and Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological model all emphasise the need for pre-school teachers to understand how the connecting variables within a family’s social network can both positively and negatively impact on children’s developmental outcomes. The tenets of these theories suggest that individuals can learn from each other via observations, imitation or modelling, which can lead towards a change in one’s behaviour. In the context of parent-teacher partnerships, learning can be reciprocal as the teacher learns about families’ cultural traditions, goals and objectives for their children and families learn about the different approaches used by early childhood professionals to scaffold the developmental milestones young children should achieve at specific ages.
"Learning can be reciprocal as the teacher learns about families’ cultural traditions, goals and objectives for their children and families learn about the different approaches used by early childhood professionals to scaffold the developmental milestones young children should achieve at specific ages."
Likewise, the philosophical works of Habermas (1987), Foucalt (1982) and Butler (1990) challenge pre-school teachers to reflect and re-evaluate their assumptions within historical contexts about different forms of authority: power and inequity, social justice and injustice which contributes to the social problems encountered by some families. In other words, pre-school teachers are asked to examine societal issues of power, equity and social justice when working in partnership with parents to support them in addressing the societal issues they may encounter from time to time.
Such theoretical underpinnings have guided the family involvement philosophies of early childhood programmes which seek to develop genuine parent-teacher partnerships with emphasis on a collaborative sharing of daily and relevant information that would be used to provide appropriate learning experiences for young children. For example, Stonehouse (2012) claims that a genuine partnership between early childhood professionals is characterised by mutual respect, the sharing of power, negotiation of solutions to issues and the affirmation of the strategies used by parent and teacher to support children’s holistic development. Similarly, Biddle (2012) suggests that within early childhood programmes the philosophical goals and objectives are usually based on the premise of collaborative relationships between parents and teachers, parents and parents, and children, parents and teachers, which are based on mutual trust and respect. In fact, the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) position statement on ‘Developmentally Appropriate Practice’ in early childhood programmes emphasises the need for positive caring relationships among teachers, parents and children by taking into consideration everyone’s well-being (Copple and Bredekamp, 2009). Therefore, taking the time to initially develop a genuine relationship with families in my care laid the foundation for me to provide parents with practical suggestions on how to address the issue of poverty.
Questions to ponder:
1. As an early childhood educator, are you willing to engage the families/parents in your care in tough conversations about the deep societal issues that impact their ability to care for their children?
2. As an educator in the primary school, are you willing to engage the parents in your class in tough conversations about the deep societal issues that impact their ability to care for their children despite the challenges you may encounter?
3. As a professional in the field of child development, what strategies have you used to engage parents of children in your care to facilitate children's holistic development?
Click here to read Part Two of this feature, where Ms. Whiteman shares strategies used with families in her care during her time as an Early Childhood educator in Trinidad and Tobago.
About the Author
Lesleann Whiteman has worked for twenty-seven years in the area of early childhood development with diverse organisations in Asia, the United Kingdom, North America and the Caribbean to ensure that Early Childhood Teacher Education Programmes use a holistic curriculum approach in training early childhood educators. Her work speaks to that of developing parent education programmes with a strengths-based approach, designing professional development programmes for early childhood educators and advocating for relevant early childhood policies for the development of early childhood care and education in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean.
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