Families as Learning Environments (page 2)
When you think about how much time children spend with their families, a consideration of how that time is used is critical. As you get to know the families of the children with whom you work, an important question to ask is: How does your family spend time together? Rather than ask about how much time families spend together, which may be threatening to already stressed parents, a question about family activities will be comfortable and will give you a picture of the child's home life.
Research on Everyday Family Activities.
Studies (Henderson & Berla, 1996; Moles, 1992) of families whose children experience success in school found the following aspects in their home life:
- A daily family routine that includes a sharing of household chores, consistent bedtimes and times to get up, meals together, and quiet places and time for study or reading
- Monitoring of children's activities, including TV watching, neighborhood play, and arrangements for child care, especially care before and after school
- Modeling the value of learning, self-discipline, and hard work through family conversations and adult modeling and demonstrations that success comes from working hard, studying, and using the library
- Setting high but reasonable expectations for achievement with goals that are appropriate for the children's age and development, as well as recognition of talents and achievements
- Encouraging children's efforts and progress in school, including a relationship with teachers and other staff, communication about the importance of education, and provision of support and interest in schoolwork
- Reading, writing, and discussions among family members so that literacy, in all its forms, is part of the daily family interactions
- Using community resources for family needs, including sports and recreational opportunities, instruction and entertainment related to the arts, inclusion of other role models and mentors, and access to libraries and museums
When parents interact with their children, such as spending time together in activities on the weekend or socializing together at mealtimes, they can significantly influence the learning of their children. Knowing how difficult it is for many contemporary families to have that kind of time together adds a challenge to our multiple roles as early childhood educators. As family advocates and educators, we need to share the research information. As child advocates and educators, we want to support the family's efforts and be sensitive to the diversity of their situations. The research confirms the critical role of families in the growth and development of children, which says to us that we need to do all we can to learn about families and to work in partnership with them. The new generation of evidence about the family's importance will remind us over and over that we need to understand today's families—their stresses, their organizations, their issues, and their strengths. The more we can support families in their roles in children's lives, the better the lives of children will be.
Community Context for Families
The ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity of the national community in which children live, and the diversity of family structures and organizations from which children come to early childhood education programs will be illustrated in the chapters that follow. Differences in cultural values or expectations for members of communities can lead to differences in the socialization goals and strategies parents adopt for their children (Okagaki & Diamond, 2000, p. 74). For children to develop and learn optimally, you will need to understand and be able to respond to children's diverse developmental, cultural, linguistic, and educational needs. That understanding and ability to respond will require your knowledge and acceptance of children's diverse family units with a broad range of values, experiences, socialization, and environments. In their recommendations for working with families, the NAEYC guidelines urge us to "actively involve parents and families in the early learning program and settings" and to "recognize that parents and families must rely on caregivers and educators to honor and support their children in the cultural values and norms of the home" (1996b). Some specific recommendations come from ECE professionals who work with families from diverse cultural backgrounds or with children who have disabilities and challenging behaviors. We think that they are "right on" for our work with all families:
- Value families as the experts in their culture and for information and experiences with their children.
- Beware of stereotyping families and practice a nonjudgmental, unprejudiced attitude toward cultural childrearing practices and norms.
- Look for commonalities among children and families as well as the individuality of children and the meaning attached to their behaviors. (NAEYC, 2006, p. 39)
Much of what we have said about families can be applied to communities. There is a growing awareness that communities contribute significantly to children's growth and development. The complexity of society demands the involvement of all the individuals and organizations that can possibly have an impact on one's life. In a later chapter, you will meet Angela Russo and all of the community members who influence her life and that of her mom, Marie. She is an example of the importance of understanding the context in which families live if you are to understand the children and families. That understanding is a first step to the goal of building partnerships with families.
© ______ 2008, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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