One of the biggest issues in working with and engaging families is that they often do not feel that the curriculum that is offered at their children’s program reflects the reality of their lives. The day-to-day stresses of raising young children while working full-time are a reality for many families.
Knowing your families is the beginning of providing a curriculum that reflects children’s lives. In Janice Keyser’s book From Parents to Partners, she says,
Think about the children and families your are working with now or have worked with in the past. What are some of the experiences or significant events in their lives that might be included in your curriculum planning? If you don’t have this kind of information about families, how could you get it?
Some of the more obvious curricular plans you should have ready to go include:
1. A New Sibling Plan- When a baby is born or a new sibling is brought into the home, there should be some sort of curriculum plan to help the child in your program adjust to this change. I am a big fan of ZaZa’s Baby Brother by Lucy Cousins. This story takes a good, long look at how a new baby may affect an older sibling as well as the new time constraints placed on the parents.
2. A Stressful Family Experience The loss of a job, an illness, or other stressful events in the family can equally stress out children. Consistency is the first and most important way to help children deal with stress, but you could also build in extra outdoor time (especially if that time is now unavailable at home). You might set up the housekeeping area with doctor’s office equipment, so children can explore some of their feelings in a safe place.
3. Divorce or a Two – Household Life- There are wonderful books directed at young children that help explain divorce or other examples of non traditional family structures. Make sure that these are available to all of the children as it is equally important that they become aware of a variety of family structures. Set up the housekeeping area to reflect different kinds of homes (houses, apartments). Set up two areas so children can go from “Mom’s House” over to “Dad’s House”. Be sure to have a variety of dolls or small people figurines that reflect a variety of families.
4. A Death in the Family- Death and dying are both very complicated concepts for young children but many will face them during their early years. Allowing children the space to ask questions, write letters to the deceased, or to talk about the funeral will help young children process their experiences. You may want to provide this one-on-one as it may not be appropriate for everyone in your group.
5. Moving- As adults we know that moving is a very stressful, yet very exciting time. This may also be true for children. Sometimes, a move means a new place to live, while everything else stays the same (same school, same neighborhood) while other times it means moving away from everything. You can help ease the stress of the move by using a large dollhouse to play with new spaces (setting up a new bedroom) or by starting a letter writing campaign with the children so the child who moves, will receive mail from his old friends.
Some of these ideas are fairly straightforward to design and implement. The trick is to have them ready to go when events arise in your program that can be supported through curriculum