CFLE in Context: Presenting Family Life Education in a Preschool Setting
As a 2011 Bowling Green State University (BGSU) graduate, I had no idea where my Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) degree would lead me upon graduation. The HDFS program taught me about dealing with people across the spectrum of all ages. All I knew was that my heart was in working with children and their families. Many things throughout my life led to my desire to work with children and their families. Getting to where I am now was anything but a straight path.
At a young age I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. I would spend hours after school pretending I was a teacher with my chalk board and piles of papers everywhere that I called "homework" for my many pretend students. I was in love with the idea of teaching. I knew that I wanted to work with children and teaching seemed like the perfect fit for my drive.
My first job, starting at the age of 13, was being the neighborhood babysitter. I was "that" babysitter; the one that didn't let the kids watch T.V. Instead, I saw the time as an opportunity to do something fun and exciting and would come up with different games and activities. At the age of 16, I started to work as a summer camp counselor in the city in which I grew up. By the time I was 19 and attending college, I was working full time in a preschool/daycare center helping with the Early Learning Initiative (ELI) preschool program, and working with children that were six weeks to twelve years old. I then went to work at a different preschool center where I became the head teacher working with 18-24 month old children. This is where I quickly learned how much young ones can learn when given the chance to be taught.
Here was where I learned qualities I would later use in my career. I was taught the Reggio Emilia philosophy and how to make lesson plans. I later did my internship in a Head Start preschool where I learned the Creative Curriculum. During my internship, I was able to lead a workshop teaching adults how to budget as a family while also assisting with a program that helped families living under the poverty line obtain utility assistance. While working in three different preschool settings, I worked with children of all ages from many different family backgrounds, cultures, religions, and economic statuses. You would think picking a major would have been easy for me since I had been working with children and families since I was 13, but I found it was anything but easy to find the major that would teach me what I was craving to learn.
As a senior is high school, I took a psychology class and thoroughly enjoyed it. This led me to major in psychology my freshman year in college. After a few semesters I realized psychology wasn't for me. I then looked into the major I had wanted to do since I was in elementary school; Early Education. After a semester of majoring in Early Education, I met with one of the guidance counselors at BGSU and told her how much trouble I was having finding a major that fit my God-given drive. I wanted to do more than just teach children the state standards. I wanted to know and understand child development, the effects their families have on their lives, and learn ways I could enhance their family interactions. I was directed to the Human Development and Family Studies program at Bowling Green State University. It was everything I wanted to learn about and I knew it would lead me to not only where I wanted to be, but where I was meant to be. Thanks to the constant drive and guidance from one of my professors, Dr. Chibucos, I graduated from Bowling Green State University on May 11, 2011 with the degree that would change my life. By the end of that same year, I was a Certified Family Life Educator.
Less than a month after graduation I was told about a preschool teaching opportunity at a school near my home called Toledo Christian School. Toledo Christian offers schooling for preschool through the twelfth grade. There were many things that got my heart pitter-pattering about this opportunity, but there were three big things that stood out to me: 1) I would get to speak of God's word every day to my students; 2) I would get to teach, which was what I wanted to do since I was a kid; and 3) I would get to use my education of HDFS and family interaction. As I researched the Toledo Christian Program i.e., Eagle's Nest, I learned that they used the Reggio Emilia Philosophy and the Creative Curriculum, two things I used while I was working during my college years!
A preschool setting may not be the typical place that people think of as a setting for family life education but it provides many opportunities. I found my background in HDFS and Family Studies to be very beneficial to the running of a preschool program. I learned of ways to provide family life education to the families of preschoolers and to get families more involved in their children's lives. The running of a classroom runs parallel with the running of a family. Each teacher and student plays a special and unique role in a classroom, just as each family member plays a special and unique role in their family. Without the support and openness of my administrative team at Toledo Christian, this wouldn't have been possible.
One of the ways that we provide family life education to preschool parents is through a "Family Fun Night." We had been learning nursery rhymes in the classroom and wanted to involve the parents. The Eagle's Nest team of teachers came up with five different centers with a craft at each table corresponding to a different nursery rhyme. Parents were very receptive to our family night and we plan to have many more this coming school year.
My preferred way to provide family life education to parents is through our quarterly newsletter: "Our Family Newsletter." The newsletter has three sections. The first section covers the investigations from Creative Curriculum and other big events we have been doing in my preschool room. The second section provides different classroom-related projects or events that parents can do with their students that go along with the information covered in our investigations at school. This is a great stepping stone to creating the much-needed family time at home. The third section is based off of a topic of family education that I pull from a recent webinar, from a subject that has come up with a fellow family, or something my families with this age group can relate to.
Along with the quarterly newsletters, I also do weekly a newsletter that is a little less formal. These newsletters cover what we did in the classroom that week, upcoming events, and information on the weekly Bible story. I intentionally include large pictures that correlate with the topics in the newsletter. Most of my preschoolers are unable to read, so I place pictures they will recognize that relate to something they have recently learned. This way when families read these newsletters together, the students can give input based off the pictures they see, instead of the words. Anything to create an opportunity for family time is essential and a duty of mine in my eyes.
In addition to having the opportunity to educate my students and their families, I have also been honored to teach my fellow teachers. I have led book club meetings on the topics of child development and family education and conducted trainings to help them earn their mandated in-service hours.
The best part about my job is that I get to create a family education atmosphere while also teaching my students the essentials of education. The hardest part of my job is the realization that no matter what I do, or how many hours I put in, I can't and won't reach every family. While I am creating ways to provide family education, I also run what some would consider a typical classroom. Many consider a preschool classroom to be daycare, or view it as just a place for their child to get socialized. But our preschool and pre-kindergarten program is far from either.
Preschool may not be a typical family education career choice. But, with some hard work, creativity, and determination, you can make a preschool classroom into a fun and creative place where your students learn what they need to grow into a confident person, while also teaching the parents and other teachers how to create a nurturing and educational family atmosphere. There are many family education resources available, but many won't be accessed unless they are literally placed in the hands of the students and parents. I feel so blessed to have been placed in a position where I am able to teach three and four-year olds. We set the standard for the rest of their schooling career and have the opportunity to provide family life education to parents and fellow teachers to enable them to create family-centered homes. When we create family-centered homes and classrooms, we as family life educators enhance children's lives. When we enhance children's lives, we enhance our future. I thank God daily for letting me play a part in that enhancement.
Sheena A. Wedge, CFLE is a Preschool teacher at Toledo Christian School. She is a graduate of Bowling Green State University with a Bachelor of Science in Education in Human Development and Family Studies. She has been working with children and families for twelve years.