CFLE in Context: Family Life Education in Early Childhood Education

by Marcia Pioppi Galazzi, M.Ed., CFLE
Content Area
Families and Individuals in Societal Contexts
Human Growth and Development Across the Lifespan

What does a CFLE do in an early care and education setting?

Since the profession of Early Care and Education recognizes that parents are the most effective teachers of their young children, the challenge for early educators is to access and support the power of family teachings, while appreciating what the early care and education profession contributes to the child and family.

How do they do that?

In staff education seminars and early welcome sessions for both families and staff, the CFLE makes clear what the roles are and can be. Teachers can be helped to make healthy home visits. Formal incoming information for the early care setting can include a family's home language, their religious preferences, customs, food preferences, ages, makeup of the family and so on. It then becomes the CFLE's work to help the teaching staff recognize how to implement this information in the life of the child.

What is an example?

Well, consider the vegetarian family who follows the teaching of Buddha. When it is holiday time in the usual American school, making turkeys as a symbol of thankfulness may be out of the understanding of a little child from such a committed family. When asked for the Christmas list of desired presents, this child may respond that their family does not give things as a sign of love. Early education staff needs training and support in how to extend this child's family teachings, helping this child feel comfortable and valued in the learning setting.

What can be done?

Teachers can be helped to understand what inclusive and diverse education means and how to implement it during morning circle discussions, classroom celebrations, and year round appreciation of family diversity.

What do you use as definition of family?

Those folks committed to a child over their lifetime. They may or may not share the same roof, or country. Family members may be of any gender or age, or role.

What are day-to-day tasks for a CFLE in an early childhood setting?

Ideally the CFLE visits each classroom daily, being accessible to teachers and family members for any issues that may arise, such as how to help a family deal with new stressors in the life of the child and/or any or all the family members.

Weekly tasks for the CFLE?

When areas of confusion or discomfort are identified in the family or the school, a CFLE may request a family meeting with teaching staff and family members and other support staff such as school nurse. The CFLE would do a child record review prior to a family conference, take notes to record the conversations at the conference and create action plans for both school and home to make life easier for all. Follow up plans are made for the CFLE to be available for coaching for either party.

Can you give an example?

Well, let's say a teacher reports that a 3-year-old's behavior seems out of control in the classroom. When observing the child, the family life educator sees the child push, yell, and be generally irritable. The educator requests a family meeting.

What might be the outcome?

Many things can happen but the most routine is that an underlying issue such as inflamed allergies for the child, or hearing losses observed at home and school are revealed. Appropriate teaching strategies are recorded for the child including more sign language use, and "touching before talking" in both settings. Referrals to the school nurse, the family physician and/or the ear, nose and throat specialist are set by the team. The CFLE follows the case for appropriate outcomes which may take weeks to determine. Meanwhile the child's symptomatic behaviors should be alleviated as the first outcome. Success is determined by more smiles from the child and the teacher!

Is referral help always in the medical realm?

Often, but not always. Teachers are often quick to say that family home life must be disrupted due to visiting grandparents, or a parent on a trip, or stress in the marriage, resulting in the child's irritable behaviors. While those things may also be true, a child's day at school can, and should, be very happy. By working with families to handle their stress in an honest manner, appropriate to the child's understanding, the emotional ease can be helped on all sides. And by helping a teacher look for more information beyond assumptions about family life, a CFLE can facilitate team support around the child's optimal development.

Are referrals to psychologists and sociologists routine?

Certainly a family life educator keeps social, emotional, financial and spiritual referral lists close at hand. Moving from coaching with a CFLE to counseling is an easier step for families to make and very helpful to all.

How else can the teacher be helped?

Suggestions can be made to aid the teacher. For instance a small puppet show on the morning circle may help a child understand what it means to be unable to hear well. Often a child needs to have a way to look at their own developmental issues and the discussions with their friends can help. A CFLE can point out the need for such discussions, or lead it.

What other routine tasks does a CFLE do to strengthen normal family life?

Although parents have less and less reading time. periodic newsletters can be helpful, especially if sent by email. These might have short coaching tips on subjects like easing through holiday stress, or living through tantrums, etc. else? In addition, several times (about 7 a year) informal talks can be arranged during school evenings when families are invited to gather for supper and enjoy separate adult chats while children stay to play with teachers. The successful hours are from 5:30 to 7:30, so all can still get to bed on time!

Are there certain assumptions behind all this communication?

Yes. The highest ethical standards apply to teachers (see National Association for Education of Young Children Guide to Ethical Practice) who receive staff training on assertive, honest communication. Families are coached in workshops, conferences and personal meetings. The goal is to work from data, reduce assumptions and make agreed-upon action plans with dates for outcome, allowing ease of communication for all.

Is this important?

It is very clear that all folks in the triangle of teacher, family, school communications can use help in learning and understanding each other. The huge areas of family life education are such that action plans need articulation and follow up. We would do well to remember that not all folks know what we know or how to take action on it!

What does your school look like?

We enjoy two buildings for classrooms that look like average Cape Cod homes. We have an insulated yurt for music, drama and visiting teachers, covered pavilions for inclement weather and 3.7 acres adjacent to a 2000 acre park. Our families, children and teachers are out playing often! We have a large summer camp and an Olympic pool for use by both school and camp programs.

Are you licensed or accredited?

We are licensed by the Brewster, MA health department for summer camp, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for year round early care and education, and we hold an accreditation with the American Camp Association. We are currently applying for our seventh National Academy Accreditation with the National Association for the Education of Young Children. All together we track seven licenses and credentials. All our credentials are heavily weighted toward family development and healthy relationships.

How large is your program?

We have 25 year-round teachers who are joined by another 60 for the summer camp programs. Our school year programs have an enrollment of about 100 children with an added 150 a day in the summer. We will participate in the development of 500 to 600 children per year. Many children and families have a long history with us averaging about 6 years per child.

Do you have a high turn-over rate in staffing?

This summer 55 of 60 counselors are requesting to return with us and the year round staff averages about 12 years per person with a turn-over rate of about 5%.

How do you account for this stability?

The CFLE philosophy and support are a very big part of what makes this a comfortable, successful and happy place to work and grow.

How are you funded?

By private tuition, by federal and state tuition grants to our families and by private donations. This mix in funding guarantees as diverse a community as can be gleaned in our area.

Do you have a mission statement?

All of our programs are dedicated to "those who seek to raise stabile and loving children in a chaotic world."

And a vision: Nurturing and challenging children and their families with courage, and hope, in good spirit and with peace

The motto of "Nurturing and challenging children and their families with courage, hope, good spirit, and in peace" carries throughout all the adult learning experiences on the campus. More can be learned from the website and

Marcia Pioppi Galazzi, M.Ed., CFLE, is the Executive Director of The Family Schools. She lives in South Orleans, MA. She is a poet, author, wife, mother, grandmother, and is an expert in the kitchen, especially with leftovers! She serves on many boards and has been honored in many ways: Distinguished Service to Early Childhood and Technical Education, 2006 United States Congressional Record for Service to AIDS, 1993 Education Compression Laboratory Training, First Woman President, 1994 International Presenter, Organization Mondiale pour 1'Education Prescolaire, London, 1987 Featured in books: Commonsense Discipline, Dewsnap, Gryphon; Back to Wow!, Lowey, et. al