COMMUNITY RESPONDS TO HOW CHILDREN LEARN
Pam Kage, Northeast region
“The kids get so excited to go check out books. Their horizons have been broadened because of the variety. They pick books that I wouldn’t have chosen for them.”
You’re researching an issue that is part of your livelihood. It is the passion that drives you. You already feel that you know the answer. How do you remove your own agenda to authentically receive information you are not prepared to hear? Through this process I had to continually navigate my assumption and bias and ultimately transition to acceptance and rediscovery of non-formal, rural activities that families feel help their young children learn.
I sought to discover how the community supports young children learning in Washington County. I did this through intentionally interviewing families from diverse backgrounds, note-taking at various meetings and finally through a Photo Voice sharing. Expecting to hear that our community does not support them, as I know the community is in a child care crisis, I instead discovered a surprising and immediate trend. Families who participated in the research feel their children learn through non-formal opportunities such as 4-H, library, church as well as extra-curricular offerings in town. There was little to no mention of early childhood education or the public school system. One mother shared “The kids get so excited to go check out books. Their horizons have been broadened because of the variety. They pick books that I wouldn’t have chosen for them.” One family was adamant- “We are not missing out by living rurally. We made a conscious decision to live out here.”
The final distilling of the data occurred with a group comprised of a parent, non-parent, grandparent, rural parent and town employee. The town administrator, who funds many non-formal opportunities shared, “It is both shocking and wonderful! It is so interesting that what I would consider 'secondary' aka non-formal may in fact have the larger impact.” She wondered, “Where does formal learning fall into the equation? Is it a given, or something else? Is it that 'community' is what all of these non-formal opportunities are made up of?”
I wonder if the responses were because families feel more involved in the non-formal opportunities and that is what surfaced? How do we engage families in formal early childhood education to where they feel involved in their child’s learning and there is a sense of community, whether the opportunity is formal or not? The data suggests that regardless of the value one holds about formal versus non-formal approaches to teaching young children, it's essential to remember the most important piece; valuing families. We must listen to what they share, ask questions with an open heart, adapt with an open will, and move forward with an open mind.
Through the Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program, I have learned that different leadership strategies and styles each have a place and purpose depending on the group, its needs and the culture of an environment. I have learned to stretch, and sometimes snap out of my comfort zone for the good of the group and for my own learning. It takes all kinds of people in leadership roles to move the needle.