Chapter 1 focuses on the family-centered approach to early childhood education, highlighting the importance of the partnership between the family, the early childhood program, and the community to maximize a child’s development and learning. For this assignment, you will create a one- to two-page fact sheet (not including title and reference pages) you can provide to the families in your program that explains the values and challenges of a family-centered approach.
The content on your fact sheet should:
- Summarize the components of a family-centered approach.
- Describe five benefits of a family-centered approach.
- Describe two potential obstacles to overcome in a family-centered approach.
- Recommend two strategies to overcome obstacles and enlist the support of parents.
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While referring to a chapter in a book, probably a textbook, the question does not specify the title of that book. What follows, therefore, is a more general discussion of the topic, the family-centered approach to early childhood education.
Unsurprisingly, the ideal approach to childhood education would routinely incorporate all logical parties, beginning with teachers and families, and extending to school boards and local parent-teacher organizations (i.e., the PTA). Such an approach is important for all children; it is especially important for children with special needs, such as those on the autism spectrum. For purposes of discussion, the following definition of “family-centeredness” will be used:
“Family-centeredness characterizes beliefs and practices that treat families with dignity and respect; individualized, flexible, and responsive practices; information sharing so that families can make informed decisions; family choice regarding any number of aspects of program practices and intervention options; parent-professional collaboration and partnerships as a context for family-program relations; and the provision and mobilization of resources and supports necessary for families to care for and rear their children in ways that produce optimal child, parent, and family outcomes.” [See Carl J. Dunst, “Family-Centered Practices: Birth Through High School,” The Journal of Special Education, Vol. 36/No. 3/2002, p. 139]
As the citation notes, the source of this definition is Carl J. (C.J.) Dunst, perhaps the most influential theoretician focusing on family-centered approaches to education. The main components of such an approach to childhood education, as discussed by Dunst, then, can be summarized as “family-centered practices,” “self-efficacy beliefs,” “parent-family needs,” and “parenting capabilities.” “Family-centered practices” is essentially the definition provided above: treating families with dignity and respect, providing families with the information they need to make informed decisions, and incorporating family participation into the learning experience. [http://utilization.info/presentations/CapacityBldgFamilyCntrd%20Practices_Arizona.pdf]
“Self-efficacy beliefs” refers to the beliefs one individual or family has in its ability to succeed at a particular function, in this case, the education of children, including those with special needs. [See Alfred Bandura, “Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change,” Psychological Review, 84] “Parent-family needs” refers to the willingness of educators and behavioral specialists to equip families with the resources they need to support their children. “Parenting capabilities,” is similar to “self-efficacy beliefs” in that it is a measure of the parents’ confidence in their ability to support their children. These are components of a family-centered approach as discussed by Dunst, and by others influenced by Dunst.
Benefits of a family-centered approach are clear, if more difficult to attain than one might think given the eminent logic involved in such an approach. The strongest and most influential relationship most children enjoy is with their parents, followed by their teachers, with siblings incorporated on a case-by-case basis depending upon the internal dynamics within each family (a qualifier that, of course, can also apply to families dealing with problems like divorce, physical and/or emotional abuse, drug and/or alcohol addiction, and so on). In advantageous, or quasi-ideal situations, the benefits include better adjusted children who develop intellectually and emotionally, especially relative to the quantifiable norms; parents who are better equipped to support their children’s needs; improvements in the above-mentioned components, including in the parents’ confidence in their ability to support their children; and a more integrated “system” for communicating among the parties involved, such as among parents, teachers, administrators, and therapists and specialists.
Potential obstacles were referred to in the above paragraph (i.e., broken families, substance abuse, etc.). Wealthier or upper-income families can generally invest the resources necessary to support the needs of their children. Lower-income families, especially those with single parents, two parents who don’t get along, the presence of substance abuse problems, and so on, are less likely to able and/or willing to “buy in” to the program. Social workers are accustomed to working with such families, and will be the first to warn of the difficulties inherent in implementing a family-centered approach to early childhood education when the family is highly dysfunctional.
Another obstacle is the willingness – or lack of willingness – of educators to “buy in” to the program. Many teachers are resistant to change and lack the sensitivity required to adjust their curriculum to the needs of certain students. This obstacle, then, is intertwined with another obstacle: class size. Many public schools across the nation are experiencing severe over-crowding in classrooms, with 30-40 students per teacher a common occurrence. For the teachers in such classrooms, participation in a family-centered approach may simply not be feasible, as the teacher’s energies are stretched across too many students.
Strategies for overcoming these obstacles are infinitely easier said than done. The problem of excessively large classrooms, for instance, is a product in most instances of a shortage of funds to build and operate more schools. Simple references to tax increases or reallocations of existing government resources may be warranted, but, again, implementation is considerably more difficult in practice than in theory. One potential strategy, however, involves a longer-term approach: incorporating the concept of family-centeredness in department of education college curriculum so that future generations of teachers will enter the profession mentally prepared and sensitized to this particular approach. That, however, addresses only one side of the equation. Families, in order to be properly equipped participants, must also be educated and sensitized to the merits of this approach to their children’s education. Again, this is more viable when discussing middle and upper-class families, with educated parents and financial resources. Lower income families that “get it” can be assisted through social services in some instances; those that don’t or can’t adjust, however, will be much more difficult to incorporate into the process. Many families want to be involved in their children’s education, and understand the importance of their role. Encouraging them to become more active participants while working with those less willing or able (for example, both parents working long hours leaves little time and energy for even the most meritorious activities) will require extra effort; in many cases, though, the effort will bear fruit.
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