[This is Part Two of the article Pre-school Teachers Make a Difference by Engaging in Tough Conversations on Social Issues that Affect Young Children and Their Families. To read Part One, please click here.]
Supporting Parents: Interactive Workshops
Based on the theoretical and philosophical underpinnings previously discussed on the significance of creating genuine parent-teacher relationships in the best interest of young children’s developmental outcomes, I have always taken into consideration the well-being of children and families who may be challenged to provide healthy snacks and lunches for their children. Due to the mutual trust and respect between the families and myself, some of the parents felt comfortable confiding in me when they were unable to provide a healthy snack/lunch for their child and in such cases I used the following strategies:
- I ensured that extra fruit was available to share with children on days their parents could not afford to provide them with a fruit. This strategy took into consideration the child’s developing sense of self, so he/she did not feel less than his/her peers, due to their parent’s financial inability to provide a fruit, while ensuring that the child’s daily dietary needs were met.
- If the child was not provided with a meal by the parent, I ensured that the child obtained either a free school-lunch or a prepared meal based on his/her dietary needs. In order to cover the cost of meals provided to children by the centre, five percent (5%) of the centre’s budget was allocated for such emergencies.
- As a follow up with families and to ensure that I continued to empower them to provide a nutritious diet for their children, I hosted interactive parent education workshops. These workshops were based on the preparation of healthy snacks and meals for pre-schoolers within the first semester, so parents could be guided on how to use local seasonal fruits and vegetables to prepare healthy and attractive snacks and meals for their pre-schoolers. These sessions were usually conducted by a nutritionist from the community who worked in partnership with early childhood professionals in order to promote healthy eating habits among pre-schoolers.
- For these interactive workshops families were usually encouraged to bring a fruit or vegetable from their garden as a means of contributing to the ingredients for the dishes to be prepared. With the guidance of the nutritionists and myself parents were encouraged to actively participate in the making and presentation of healthy snacks and meals for their children. At the end of the workshops recipes and literature on the topic were shared with parents. Additional literature on healthy eating for pre-schoolers were also posted on the ‘Parent’s Bulletin Board’, as well as in the centre’s Newsletters.
- After the interactive workshops I would usually observe an improvement in the different types of snacks and variety of lunches children were provided with by their parents. Many times parents requested a follow up workshop to address additional issues on providing children with a healthy diet and the introduction of new foods.
However, the challenge surrounding the sustainability of the families’ efforts in the provision of healthy snacks and meals centred on the families’ ability to have an adequate income at their disposal. In the next section I have discussed the strategies I used to assist parents in gaining some measure of independence with their allotted socio-economic resources.
Supporting Parents: Management of Allotted Socio-Economic Resources
From my professional experience as a pre-school teacher, I have found that providing interactive workshops on the preparation of healthy snacks and meals for pre-schoolers should also be supported by the provision of additional guidance to parents on the management of their allotted socio-economic resources, by providing financial workshops on budgeting. These free workshops are usually conducted by professionals from financial organisations based within the community. The financial advice given takes into consideration the families’ daily, weekly, fortnightly or monthly incomes and provides practical advice on how best the families can manage their allotted income to ensure that they are able to provide for their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. These workshops usually extend into personal advising sessions with the financial advisor, once requested by families who may need additional guidance and follow up support. I have observed that these workshops help families make effective use of their income by helping them to prioritise their needs.
For example, I worked with a single father who received a daily wage of TT $100 (equivalent to US $20) and we created a sample savings plan; by saving TT $30.00 daily (Monday to Friday), by Saturday he would have TT $180 to purchase the required ingredients listed in his weekly menu for his daughter’s snacks and lunches. In a month’s time the father was able to independently complete this task and only sought my advice when he needed new menu ideas. I also provided the father with feedback on his daughter’s response to the healthy snacks and meals so he could be aware of her dietary preferences.
For the other parents whose needs were focused on the acquisition of new recipe ideas and suggestions on how to introduce their children to new foods, I provided additional recipes used with the children within the centre. In fact, my strategy is not a new one as Kalich, Bauer and McPartlin (2014) claim that offering pre-schoolers the opportunity to try new healthy foods in a non-threatening manner is one of the many ways early childhood educators are able to model healthy eating behaviours, make healthy dietary choices and engage in the preparation of nutritious foods. This communicates to children and their families the importance of establishing at an early age life-long healthy eating habits. As such, while I introduced the children to a variety of healthy foods, I documented their preferences and shared the information with their parents, which assisted them in providing an array of healthy snack and meal choices for their children.
The final follow up strategy I used to assist families who may need additional assistance with managing their limited income focused on obtaining better paying jobs. For these parents assistance was provided in the form of completing applications for jobs and training programmes as they worked towards applying for jobs with an increased income to support their families. For example, I would usually post on the ‘Parent’s Bulletin Board’ employment and training opportunities within the community, as a means of providing the parents with information that may be unknown to them. I also created a schedule of appointment slots for parents to choose an appropriate time to meet with me for further assistance with the completion of their job applications. Again, I must emphasise that the success of my supportive strategies on addressing the issue of poverty with families in my care is based on the genuine partnership I initially developed with the parents at the start of the semester. The parents understood that my assistance was all in the best interest of their children’s growth and development and throughout the whole process I empowered the parents to be in charge of the assistance they required to address the societal issue of poverty.
My model for assisting families affected by the deep social issue of poverty is just one model based on the needs of parents in Trinidad. As research has shown by Jor’dan and Lee (2014) in the United States there is a residential programme called ‘The Children’s Place Association: Supporting Families Impacted by HIV/AIDS.’ The purpose of this programme is to support young children affected by HIV/AIDS and other life-changing health conditions. The main tenet of the programme’s philosophy is one of closely working in partnership with families via diverse family engagement strategies such as:
- Creating a welcoming environment for families by encouraging them to participate in daily workshops, volunteer their time in the children’s daily activities and provide a space where they can access basic office equipment like computers, printers, fax machine and telephones
- Provision of family education workshops on topics suggested by parents e.g. accessing specific resources in the community, management of finances and health and nutrition issues that would support the independence of families in supporting their children’s holistic development
- Provision of fun events for families, support groups to combat parenting in isolation and provision of transportation for families to attend the centre’s activities or important appointments, as well as the provision of clothing, food, emergency assistance and child-care.
Jor’dan and Lee (2014) emphasise that the programme’s family engagement strategies usually assist parents in addressing the deep social issues that may impact on their ability to independently care for their young children. Therefore, as seen with my strategies of supporting parents in addressing the issue of poverty, these families who access the early childhood programme at ‘The Children’s Place Association’ are empowered to address the deep societal issue of HIV/AIDS that may impact their ability to independently care for their children.
As a pre-school teacher I am not afraid to engage in tough conversations with parents on societal issues that may impact their ability to independently care for their children. The conversation begins with the establishment of a genuine parent-teacher partnership founded on mutual trust and respect that focuses on supporting the holistic growth and development of young children. The conversation deepens when families work in partnership with me to actively participate in activities/workshops/training which will empower them to use meaningful strategies to address the issues that affect their inability to care for their children. The conversation is an ongoing conversation that is continued until the families have indicated that they can now manage the specific social issue as they now have a contingency plan to independently move forward. To conclude, I want to leave my fellow early educators and primary school teachers with a couple questions to ponder upon as they reflect on the role educators play in helping parents address deep societal issues.
Questions to ponder upon:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
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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.