All aboard the early learning caravan!

school cropped

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills described a century old schoolhouse which adjoins her property. She is hoping that someone will buy it and make it a meeting place for the community, recognising the role it had to play in the education of generations past as well as its contribution to the history of the area. Her thoughts about the schoolhouse led her to thinking of community engagement and neighbourly relationships which, in turn, inspired her flash fiction challenge for this week, to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about nurturing a neighborly relationship.

I would have loved the little schoolhouse at Elmira Pond as the base for the alternative school I hoped to establish at the end of last century. The schoolhouse has a nice community feel to it, unlike many of the large brick, concrete jungle-type schools into which one can almost dissolve in a sea of sameness. Charli’s schoolhouse/community centre would also be a great meeting place for parents with their young children; a friendly early learning centre for both.

8-12-2013 7-38-33 PM

 

Based on my beliefs that:

  • parents are a child’s first and most important teachers;
  • the most important years of a child’s development are the years before school;
  • children who enter school with rich vocabularies, an interest in the world around them, and a love of books are primed to succeed;
  • children without those experiences are disadvantaged in their learning right from the start and face an enormous challenge in catching up;
  • waiting until children enter school is too late;
  • the best way to minimise or eliminate the disadvantage is by educating parents through programs that model effective parenting behaviours and support them in their interactions with their children;
  • parenting programs offering those types of support would be most effective if begun before birth of the children and continued at least until the child enters school, maybe beyond;
  • most parents want to do the best for their children, many just don’t know how to go about it.

There are any number of birthing classes, but not many that aim to support parents in nurturing their child’s development. In my opinion, investing time and money into developing programs such as these would have enormous benefit, not only to individual children and their parents, but to society as a whole.

I am not talking about programs that place children of increasingly (or should that be decreasingly) younger years into structured and formal “teaching and learning” situations. I am not talking about one-off talks or series of lectures to parents.

Many of the parents of children who begin school with the types of disadvantage I have mentioned are themselves products of similar disadvantage. In a previous post I discussed the roles of “nature” and “nurture” in a child’s development. In these cases especially, it can be difficult to tease out the differences. Many of these parents would not have positive feelings towards schools or any other public institution and may feel threatened, or reluctant for other reasons, to attend sessions in public halls or government offices.

What I am talking about is a program that:

  • goes to the parents and children in their neighbourhoods, meeting in a local park or community greenspace, on regular weekly occasions;
  • invites parents to talk with, read to and play with their children using provided books, games and toys;
  • models positive parenting behaviour, explaining to parents the benefits to their children of engaging with them in activities and discussions;
  • provides suggestions for inexpensive and easy activities to do at home;
  • encourages borrowing from a book and toy library.
Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

I envision the program being delivered by an early children trained educator who is sympathetic to the situations and demands of people from diverse backgrounds, who is warm and supportive with good interpersonal skills with both adults and children, who drives a mobile early learning centre fully-equipped with books, toys, games, paper, pens and craft materials, including items for borrowing and distribution for activities to be done at home.

I see the centre as a brightly painted caravan with doors that open wide to display a colourful and engaging assortment of resources to delight the interests and eyes of young children and their parents.  As the caravan travels into each neighbourhood it would play music to signal its arrival (think of the old icecream vans!) inviting parents and children to come, investigate, and join in.

caravan

Thinking about the excitement that such a program may stimulate in a neighbourhood, and the sense of community and belonging it may encourage, led me to write about it for my response to Charli’s prompt.

I hope you enjoy it.

The caravan

Children waited anxiously at windows and front garden fences.

Mothers and fathers hurried to complete the last of their chores.

Others, already at the park, were unable to wait.

Ears strained, listening for music signalling, “It’s time!

Suddenly “Girls and boys come out to play!” announced the arrival of the brightly painted caravan.

“Come on!” urged children, tugging at skirts, trousers and hairy legs.

“Come on!” chimed parents, downing cloths and brooms. Clasping small hands they whisked them out.

Everyone watched as the doors of the caravan opened; ready for fun: stories, games and much to explore!

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

33 thoughts on “All aboard the early learning caravan!

  1. Sacha Black

    Lovely piece of flash Norah. 🙂 Was that you in the photo?? 😀

    I think its a fantastic idea to have parenting classes of that nature. I have always thought prevention is better than cure, and what better way to prevent than to start with the parents. I think you have to catch them early too – maybe not in pregnancy they aren’t really attuned to how children learn and play at that point, but definitely when they are still on maternity leave – Besides, its hard even for us creative folk to constantly come up with new ideas for play and learning. I would have loved to go to something like that, and I pride myself on teaching my son everyday. I really think you ought to do this…… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Sacha. It is a former version of me in the photo – many, many loooong years ago!
      Thanks for your encouragement re the early childhood classes. I think it is great that you teach your son everyday. He learns from you whether you set out to teach him or not. The most important lessons learned are not necessarily those that are “taught”! Sometimes, our children are the ones who know best what they need to learn, and “teach” us what to do next. I know my children did! 🙂

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  2. Sherri

    Oh Norah, I adore your painted caravan, what an incredibly welcoming, happy and educational place that would be! You are really on to something here! Love your happy flash too, I can hear the squeals of the children from here and see their parents’ proud faces, beaming away. Wonderul 😀

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your enthusiasm, Sherri! It was fun to write a happy flash for a change. I think I’ve been a bit bogged down with Marnie’s story. 🙂

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  3. Sarah

    I love this idea. The concept of “parenting classes” has such a negative connotation–something people do because court mandates it, for example, or because a child is out of control. But everyone could benefit from a little more education. Parents do get more information about giving birth than they do about teaching their child to read. This is a great idea. It would also build community (something that’s badly needed here) and let parents help each other out.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Sarah. I really appreciate your comment. For me, the education has to be delivered in a fun and non-threatening way for all, modelling rather than telling. I think the sense of community and helping each other out is really important.

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  4. Pingback: Nurturing Neighbors « Carrot Ranch Communications

  5. writersideup

    Not kidding here, Norah—I kind of wish you hadn’t shared this online ’cause I think you need to seriously look into getting this implemented! People take other people’s concepts and run with it and to me, this has legs—very long, sturdy legs. Think about it, my dear. I honestly think this could BE something, especially with the increasing evidence about how vitally important those formative years are! Way to go!!! Absolutely brilliant!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Donna. I’m pleased that you, and so many others, can see the importance and potential of programs such as this. Unfortunately they don’t seem to get the backing or funding of authorities. Even this morning I was reading about cuts to funding to early childhood programs. Very disappointing.

      Liked by 1 person

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  6. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    I think that is an absolutely fabulous idea Norah. I would like to add that as well as the caravan crew being trained in early childhood teaching they also need to be trained in teaching adults. If you are going to target those that are already behind as their own parents had difficulties at school those parents may not be able to read and write themselves, they may struggle to read to the children and may need help themselves in a way that doesn’t increase a poor self-esteem. I can remember employing a girl who had basic English only. Her eight year old son at the time was way behind as the mother (our employee) had allowed him to miss a lot of school. I tried to teach him to read and write but failed for various reasons. He left school unable to read and write at the earliest age (15?). He now has baby who is a year old and I fear the cycle will be repeated. For a family like that the bus would be a godsend but it has to help the parent also so they can carry on the work at home.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Irene. That family you mention is definitely the type who I think would benefit from a program such as this. My intention would be to break the cycle and improve the self-esteem and confidence of both parents and children, and provide strategies for improving their choices and opportunities.

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  7. Charli Mills

    What a vision you have shared! It reminds me of a cross between a colorful gypsy wagon, a book mobile and an ice cream truck. With trained leaders, each van (now I see you with a fleet of them!) would be a center hub for communities with young children. You’re right; we have birthing classes but no options for combined social and parenting classes that empower parents and engage children. Thank you for sharing this vision of what could pull neighbors together and make a difference in communities in a positive way!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you Charli, I’m pleased you are able to see the benefits the way I can. Now I just need to get others onboard. I have wondered about crowd funding. I wonder how the idea would go. Haven’t done enough on it just yet, have been sidetracked by other things. The idea has been incubating for a number of years.

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  8. macjam47

    Norah, this is a wonderful idea. Your idea of the caravan reminds me of the bibliovan that came around during the summer when I was a child. We lived in a rural community and that was how we kept up with our reading.

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. Sarah Brentyn

    I hadn’t thought about it but, of course, there are birthing classes so why not parenting classes. I mean, there are parenting classes but not in the way that you’re describing here. How to help your children succeed in school. I donate loads of board books and some learning DVDs to preschools but, yes, the parents should indeed be in on it. These places are just care while parents are at work.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you Sarah. I’m pleased you can see it too. The idea seems so simple to me, I’m not sure why it hasn’t been done already! Maybe the encouragement I’m receiving here will be a bit of inducement to bring the idea out from the back of the closet!

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  10. TanGental

    A positive FF which is a balm after some difficult weeks. I was at a launch today of a drugs and alcohol programme (coping with the issues, not selling..) and the point about engaging and positivity was central as it would be with your caravan. Hopefully the magic bus will see the light of day.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Geoff, though I’m sorry to hear you have had some difficult weeks. Maybe I’ve missed those posts, sorry. I’m pleased to hear you weren’t selling the drugs and alcohol. I hope the program has the desired positive effect. Thanks for your encouragement re the caravan. I do indeed think it could work some magic. 😄

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  11. woodbeez48

    I love your idea, Norah. I teach in a middle school (ages 9 – 13) and I went part-time because I found it too much to help both children and their parents, as well as trying to live my own life. I think your idea makes such a lot of sense. For some of us, what you describe was the natural way we were inclined to raise our children but it’s not the same for all parents and some need lots of support. By investing in parents earlier, we would be helping everyone further down the line. Well done for having the idea and for your FF. Now all we have to do is to get governments to listen and implement it! We heard it here first 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Julie. I really appreciate your support of this idea. You are right, many parents do these things naturally, but others don’t have much clue, many because they did not experience positive parenting in their younger years.
      When Bec was small, I ran classes for parents and children at my home. Many of those parents told me what a difference the classes made to their children’s success at school and their choices when they left school. These were people considered to be “good” parents. If it could make a difference for them and their children, imagine the difference it could make to others. These classes form the basis of my caravan idea.
      I know what you mean about the demands of caring for both parents and children when teaching. It can be quite exhausting but, hopefully, worthwhile.

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  12. Annecdotist

    Another important post, Norah. Both your flash and the photo (how engaged everyone looks, and how you’re enjoying the interactions) perfectly encapsulates what you’re trying to create. If only governments would listen to you more!
    Interesting point that there’s lots of effort put into preparing parents for the birth, but so little about training for the job. One of the few decent things the last Labour government brought in over here was Sure Start centres with similar aims to this (I’m not totally aware of the philosophy behind them, and they still might have been a little more formal than what you’re talking about, but there were definitely a step in the right direction) but of course the next government cut the funding. Tragic!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you Anne. I really appreciate your positive response. They were great fun, those classes, when Bec was little. I ran them from home and received a great response to them. Interesting how programs such as Sure Start are often the first to have their funding cut. If only “they” realised that money spent educating parents and young children would reap huge dividends in the long run!

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  13. Bec

    Wow, Nor, what an inspiring post and FF. It’s so wonderful to read about ‘solutions’ and practical ideas to create positive change. I would love to see the early learning caravan operational – and I know I can think of a perfect teacher to “drive” it! I also love the enthusiasm and excitement expressed in the FF.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Bec, thanks for your positive comments. Of course the idea sprung from those classes we had when you were young. Remember?
      As much as I’d love to be the teacher, I think these days I’d rather train younger teachers to drive the caravans and implement the programs I design! I do think there would be a lot of excitement for the program, if only I would get it going!

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