When I first heard of ReadyRosie, I was developing and implementing the program Comienza en Casa | It Starts at Home at the non-profit Mano en Mano | Hand in Hand, which ran from 2012-2015. CeC provided parents with information and tools that they could use to help their preschool-aged children develop school readiness skills and contribute to their success in school and in life. The program used a home-based curriculum that combined iPad use with traditional early learning activities and served families eligible for the Maine Migrant Education Program. The rich conversations we had with families during the CeC program showed me that parents and primary caregivers have incredible expertise that is often overlooked and how powerful it can be when educators and parents partner together.
At the beginning of the program, we used tip-sheets and written instructions to guide early learning activities that parents could do at home. We hoped that these packets of information would be enough to reinforce the concepts we had covered in group learning sessions. However families told us they preferred hands on learning to print and in some cases had lower literacy levels so we knew that they would have limited effects. At the end of the fall 2013 season, we decided to try a new strategy: video-modeling. I created a short bilingual model of expressive storybook reading for home use on iPads together with my program co-developer, Early Education Consultant, Bonnie Blagojevic and the local Kindergarten teacher, Suzen Polk-Hoffses. It received very positive feedback, and the message from parents was clear: tip sheets weren’t as effective as video models.
As we prepared the curriculum for the following season my mind was full of ideas about how we could create bilingual video models of the early learning concepts and activities for all of our units. Finding quality resources in Spanish was a challenge in itself, let alone video resources in Spanish. How would we start tackling this project? Would we need to create all of the videos ourselves and find native speakers to volunteer? How would we ever find the time?! Fortunately, an email about ReadyRosie made its way into my inbox– it was just what we needed!
After reading about ReadyRosie, we contacted the company and began plans to roll out a pilot of the program. We wanted to be intentional about how we would use the videos within our existing curriculum. For each unit we identified three or four earning learning concepts, carefully selected apps that aligned with those concepts, and chose corresponding videos from the extensive ReadyRosie library. Most of the families we were working with did not have internet access, and ReadyRosie was very willing to work around the delivery challenges. They let us load the videos on each family’s iPad so they could access them (along with other pre-loaded apps) at home without internet access. While CeC’s download and pre-loading services were unique to its role as a ReadyRosie pilot site, any ReadyRosie user can customize the delivery and order of videos to align with learning goals.
When we shifted from the paper tip sheets to providing ReadyRosie videos we started seeing parents document and share a lot more activities and experiments that they were conducting at home. We expected that videos would be well received, but we didn’t expect that they would start making their own videos. As they generated their own content, they demonstrated their understanding of the concepts highlighted in the unit and RR videos. At first the parents made videos that closely mirrored the ReadyRosie model. However, with time their confidence increased and they created less formal, exploratory videos that showed an even deeper understanding of the early learning concepts. Making these videos marked a shift from parents acting as consumers to creators.
The use of video models instead of print was key to increasing engagement. We wouldn’t have realized how important this was without the strong relationships and ongoing conversations we had with families that helped us to understand how to effectively work together to support their children. This provided new insights and pathways to learning for all. One article we found particularly valuable on this topic was Family Engagement, Diverse Families, and Early Childhood Education Programs: An Integrated Review of the Literature.
When we think about building relationships, here are some tips we keep in mind:
Family input should inform project design. Before trying to implement a new program or initiative gather information from families. What are their communication preferences? What challenges might you you face? For example: if parents tell you there is no internet access at home you might consider setting up viewing sessions at the school and/or provide information about local free internet access points.
Invite ongoing communication and authentic feedback. Let family members know their opinions are truly valued. Parents might be hesitant to say if something isn’t working, why it’s a challenge, and how it could be improved. Solicit feedback from parents regularly and make it clear that you appreciate whatever comments (even criticism!) they might have–it will help make the program work better for everyone!
Support families in engaging their children: Provide encouragement and be clear that every attempt they make to engage their child in learning shows their child that they care about their education. It may take time for parents to see that what they are doing is working. A quick message indicating you’ve seen what they’re doing goes a long way and shows that you’re both working towards the same goal.
Teachers have a unique role and opportunity: I repeatedly shared research with parents on a variety of topics. For example, about how speaking with their children in their home language was the best thing they could do to help them prepare for school. However, hearing the same message from the local Kindergarten teacher gave parents confidence that this was the right thing to do and why it was important. As representatives of a school and educational system, teachers have are in a unique position to confirm a parent’s ability to contribute to their children’s education.
Learning what works to strengthen partnerships with families may seem time-consuming, but in the end, can show huge returns, if it results in more effective and coordinated efforts between home and school, and the chance for parents to feel more empowered in their abilities to help their child succeed. These strategies were so useful in our work with CeC and hopefully will inspire conversations to consider what might be useful in your own setting.
GUEST POST BY ANA BLAGOJEVIC
For five years Ana Blagojevic worked as the Western Migrant Education Program Coordinator at Mano en Mano | Hand in Hand, a non-profit organization in Downeast Maine. During that time she co developed and implemented the program Comienza en Casa, It Starts at Home. She recently moved to Tennessee where she continues to work in education with children and families.