Engaging Families in Learning

September 29, 2015

Engaging Families in Learning

Our view of families connects to the view offered to us in Ontario Pedgagogy for the Early Years, “How Does Learning Happen”. It states “families are composed of individuals who are competent and capable, curious, and rich in experience. Families love their children and want the best for them. Families are experts on their children. They are the first and most powerful influence on children’s learning, development, health, and well-being. Families bring diverse social, cultural, and linguistic perspectives. Families should feel that they belong, are valuable contributors to their children’s learning, and deserve to be engaged in a meaningful way.” (HDLH p. 7)

Educators often ask themselves, how can we be sure to live into this strong view of families?  How can we engage families in a meaningful way in children’s learning and experiences during their time with us?

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Educators from the preschool room at our Lindsay location found themselves contemplating the very same questions. Laura and Cara worked hard to develop strong relationships with families and wanted to involve them more deeply in their classroom practice. With the support of their pedagogical leader Dianne Traynor, and Associate Executive Director Lorrie Baird, they reflected on what was happening in the classroom and how to draw families in, in a more meaningful way. Books had always been a great launching point for much of the work that had taken place in their room and one of the children had brought in a book that was gaining much attention and interest by the children. “On the Night you Were Born”, is a beautiful story about becoming a part of a family and the uniqueness of each child. The educators decided to ask families to share their stories and experiences from the time their children were born or became a part of their families. The educators suggested to families to share the story that they would naturally tell others and consider these ideas:

Something that touched your heart and mind…

Your first memory of bringing your child home…

How/why you picked their name…

A special gift that you were given…

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.45.37 PMThe stories began to arrive in the classroom, some written by families and others shared verbally with educators as they took notes. Once the stories arrived the educators decided to share them at morning meeting. They didn’t let the children know whose story was whose, but the children were quick to figure it out.

That’s Me!!

After their morning meeting the children were invited to draw any part of the story that inspired them. They became illustrators of their own story and of others. The following are a few of the drawing and excerpts from the stories:

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.45.54 PMThe next day his very excited big sister got to come and meet him. She held him gently in a chair at the hospital and told him a story about a bumble bee and a bear, she showed him her favourite stuffie named froggie and told him that SOMETIMES she would share it because she loved him.

At the hospital we painted your little foot and took an imprint. Daddy took it to the tattoo parlor and Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.46.11 PMgot it put on his arm with your date of birth. He was such a proud daddy.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.46.23 PMYou then went for a ride in an ambulance. Daddy said they put on the lights and the sirens all the way to the next hospital. Daddy and Nana went too while I had to stay and let my tummy heal. I was so worried about you, but every time I called Daddy he told me you were a fighter and would be okay.

After a long time of waiting and hoping we found out we were expecting a baby. We were absolutely Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.46.38 PMthrilled! Imagine how shocked and excited we were to find our that there were TWO babies coming.

Each story became a way to build relationships. In the first story we learned about the love shared by a big sister right from the start. We saw the willingness and desire for one child in a family to welcome another into their family by sharing their most cherished items. The story of the tattoo is especially heartwarming as the little girl expressed “I’m feeling happy about myself now. Now I know how my dad got my name on his arm.” And of course, the children’s natural curiosity got the best of them and they all wanted to see this tattoo when dad arrived for pick up. The third story was difficult for the family to write. The birth of their daughter was not easy and there was a chance she may not survive. Thinking back on that time was not a joyful experience. But with the persistent of their daughter, they wrote the story. It was so touching to listen to the children as they expressed their empathy to their friend and her family. It was a true testament to strong relationships and the care they held for one another. In the final picture and story we see the true details of children’s thinking. The protruding belly button, the stomach so large it couldn’t fit behind the steering wheel and the two babies happily inside the mommy’s tummy. We still chuckle when we recall Sophia’s comment on her drawing… “ I had to put clothes on them because if they were naked it would be creepy”.

We learned through this experience how stories have an intimate way of building relationships and deeper connections with children and families and how each story offered children a greater understanding of each other. We saw children’s sense of self grow and watched as the stories brought out feeling of pride, empathy, compassion and identity. What comes to mind as you reflect on this story? Where do you see evidence of children, educators and families competence?

Contributors:  Lorrie Baird, Dianne Traynor, Laura Arney and Cara Murtha

To read previously posted Compass ELC Blogs, please click HERE.