A Parent, Advocate, Teacher, and Trainer
By Malkia “Kia” McLeod
There is no “j” in family engagement. In other words, it’s a “judgment-free” community. Many members of the early childhood community are parents first. They have studied the various aspects of early childhood education and served in several leadership roles. Mostly importantly, they are dedicated advocates for school readiness, positive parent-child relationships and the benefits of family engagement.
“When I was in graduate school, I interned at Ready At Five,” said Brigid Cook. “Then I started working with Baltimore City Public Schools because my heart was in teaching.”
Early in her career, Cook experienced the best of both worlds: teaching for Baltimore City and implementing the Learning Party curriculum from Ready At Five. Learning Parties are interactive, hands-on, parent/child events that build parents’ knowledge of school readiness skills so they can best support their child’s healthy growth and development. Ready At Five offers Learning Party curriculum in seven domains of learning: Language and Literacy, Math, Science, Social Foundations, Physical Well-Being and Motor Development, Social Studies, and Fine Arts. Over the past 11 years, Cook has implemented learning parties in Language and Literacy.
“Each time they come out with a new one [Learning Party], I want to start implementing it,” said Cook. “Now I am here with one that I feel is the biggest need— especially now that I have transitioned out of the classroom.”
For the former kindergarten teacher, the stakes had become higher. In March, Cook joined other early care and education professionals from across the state for Ready At Five’s new Parent Leadership Learning Party Train the Trainers training session. The goal of the two-day workshop is to build a cadre of local trainers who can provide sustainability for the learning parties and expand the reach to communities throughout Maryland. This will come in handy for Cook in her current role as a Title I Intervention Teacher in Baltimore City.
“When I am sitting around the IEP table, I am listening to the parent’s perspective, the principal’s perspective, the special educator’s perspective, and my own perspective,” said Cook. “These core topics that they are talking about here just hit home for me.”
The Parent Leadership Learning Party curriculum also meets Goal Seven of the Maryland Early Childhood Family Engagement Framework: Family engagement initiatives should support the development of families as leaders and child advocates. Cook believes this particular curriculum is critical for her most important role as a parent of three children, ages five years, three years and nine months.
“It [the Parent Leadership Learning Party curriculum] is going to help me as a parent and it will help me in my position partnering with parents,” said Cook. “It is going to help my colleagues as we are sitting around the IEP table or in special education trying to understand and come back to the core that parents do really care, and how can we all work together to make sure everyone is listening to the parent who will be with their child for a lifetime and work to help advocate for their child.”
Family engagement involves being intentional about partnering with parents, families, libraries, non-profits, businesses, government, and other stakeholders. It also involves leadership and advocacy at work, in the community, and at home.
“When I started this, I wasn’t a parent; but I think back to those days when I would stand in front of parents and thought I knew what I was talking about,” said Cook. “I learned a lot from working in early childhood and at Ready At Five. Now as a parent, I feel more of a connection because I am living and learning it first-hand and in the trenches.”
The DRU Judy Center Promotes Family Well-Being
By Malkia "Kia" McLeod
Although the focus was on bedtime, there were no pajamas, lullabies or nightlights at the Little Flowers Early Childhood and Development Center, Inc. in Northwest Baltimore. There were, however, a group of parents and a special stack of boxes.
“Last year, we just distributed the boxes to the parents,” said DRU Judy Center Coordinator Crystal R. Harris. “But we didn’t get any feedback from them.”
This year, Harris decided to take a more strategic approach by moving from family involvement to family engagement. In fact, she employed Goal One of the Maryland Early Childhood Family Engagement Framework: Family Engagement initiatives should promote family well-being. The first step for Harris was to identify parents' concerns and develop resources to help address them. In order to help parents feel more comfortable about sharing, she used the recommended "Conversation Starters" that include asking families about their children's daily bath or bedtime routines.
“One parent told me that her child refuses to go to bed until she does,” said Harris.
As stated in the Toolkit, when a parent expresses concerns about their child’s bedtime behaviors, a mini-assessment of the bedtime routine can help identify areas of support. The next step for Harris was to plan a four-session workshop for parents. Hosted by the DRU Judy Center, the “Bedtime in a Box,” hour-long series highlighted age-appropriate bedtimes, helpful tips on how to get children to bed and sleep through the night.
“Our goal was to stress the importance of establishing a routine, which includes preparation and at least 10-12 hours of sleep every night,” said Harris. “One of my parents thought that was too much.”
Through the workshop and “Bedtime Conversations,” Harris helped parents identify whether or not their children experienced sleep, routine or behavioral issues. The final step for Harris was to encourage parents to establish a routine they could consistently follow in the same order every night. For additional support, she also distributed the “Bedtime in the Box” kits filled with a variety of sleepy time goodies and a routine log with stickers to track progress.
“My son really likes the books; and he wants me to read the Little Owl Night almost every night,” said Stephanie Holmes who has a four-year-old son enrolled in the program. “I think parents can learn a lot from this workshop like replacing the electronics with books at bedtime.”
The “Bedtime in the Box” kits include a bath towel, soap, foam letters and numbers, toothpaste and brush, five books, water-resistant collapsible box, alarm clock, stuffed animal, an educational learning kit, and other games.