4-C Literacy Backpack Series: “Literature as a Way to Support Social Emotional Growth”

When Supporting Families Together Association (SFTA) funded 20 staff from their member agencies to attend the “Training of Facilitators for Positive Solutions for Families” in April, 4-C Referral Specialist Ruth DeNure from Madison was one of them. The training, a 6 to 8-week parenting curriculum, guided attendees in how to support children’s social emotional growth, and provided free social emotional themed children’s books to participants. Ruth left with the books, but also with an idea to use them in guiding parents at 4-C Play & Learns to better support their children’s social emotional growth.

“I wanted to use literature as a way to support social emotional growth, and to not just think of a book all by itself but as an avenue to start discussions,” said Ruth. “A book can actually be a conduit for that.”

With the ideas and materials from the training, and support from the SFTA Family Literacy Backpacks1Engagement Specialist, Ruth created a series of Literacy Backpacks that parents participating in 4-C Play & Learns can check out and take home to use with their children. Each backpack contains activities and ideas focused around a children’s book that addresses social emotional issues. The handout included in each backpack reads,

“Parents/caregivers who read to their children every day and talk about what they are reading together promote a joy of reading and literacy achievement. Literacy Backpacks encourage reading at home and support the role of parents as educators.”

Ruth has currently completed eight literacy backpacks, so that the program can officially kick off in September with four backpacks for each of the two teams of teachers at the 11 different 4-C Play & Learn sites. Creating the backpacks and their content has proven fairly cost-effective, since Ruth primarily used the books from the training and materials from the 4-C Resource Room and Play & Learns. As the program moves forward Ruth plans on evaluating and expanding the program based on its reach and feedback from participants.

What’s Inside a Literacy Backpack?

Each backpack contains a book, 4-5 story extender ideas for parents/caregivers to do with their child, and a folder with additional story extender ideas and materials explaining the importance of early literacy and the purpose of the Literacy Backpacks.

David Gets in Trouble Backpack

Sample story extender activities from the “David Gets in Trouble” Backpack:

  • “How does David feel?” activity: Pictures of David from the book are provided with different facial expressions. Children can match his expressions to the correct emotion, then parents can ask children questions about that emotion in their life (a.k.a. When was a time you felt happy? How do you feel today?)
  • Feelings Bingo: Bingo cards offer children different situations where children have to guess what emotions that situation would cause. For example, how might a girl getting a surprise party feel? Children can place a Bingo piece on the emotion listed on their game card that they think fits the situation.
  • “The things I can do” activity: Children work with their parents to identify ways they can help around the house. For instance, feeding the fish or putting away their things.
  • “Faces show feelings” activity: The object of this game is to have fun while learning about feelings and facial expressions. The child and parent each choose a marker.  Each player rolls the die and the person with the largest number goes first.  For younger children:  When the child lands on a face, they must make a face like the one they land on and tell about what makes them feel that way.  For older children:  When the child lands on a face, they must tell about a specific time when they felt that way.  The first person to the finish line is the winner.
  • Auditory Discrimination: Parents can read the book in a happy, sad or other emotionally charged tone. Children can share the differences in how they felt about the story when it was read through different emotions. Parents and children can talk about how our tone can reflect our feelings, and how that can affect others.

Stay tuned to the 4-C website for more information on this program and other services that 4-C provides.

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PIWI Grant Awards

Three SFTA member agencies were recently chosen to receive funding to implement Parents Interacting With Infants (PIWI) in their regions, through Race to the Top funds distributed by the Pyramid Model State Leadership Team. PIWI is an approach involving parents and their babies, meant to strengthen the child/parent bond and understanding while also building parents’ confidence and knowledge as caregivers. The agencies awarded these funds—Family Resource Center of Eau Claire County, Northwest Connection Family Resources, and Family Connections of Southwest Wisconsin – each have a unique take on the implementation of PIWI in their regions.

Family Resource Center of Eau Claire County

Kari Stroede, Executive Director of the Family Resource Center of Eau Claire County, stated that her agency is taking a four-part approach to implementing PIWI.

“Along came this grant opportunity and we thought, wow, we can really blend multiple things here,” said Kari.

The funding will primarily be used to offer “Baby Cafés;” a six-part series for infants andBaby Cafe Invite their parents incorporating PIWI methodology. These cafés will take place for an hour and a half once a week from April through May of 2016. Cafés are currently still in the planning stages in terms of what the structure will look like, but recruitment is already in the works. The agency plans to take café invitations directly into birthing centers at local hospitals, so that new parents can easily access this opportunity. Parents will receive yet-to-be-determined incentives for attending all six cafés.

“We are very intentional in terms of how we plan the Baby Cafés,” stressed Kari. “It’s a support place for parents…focused on where they are at.”

Family Resource Center of Eau Claire County is partnering with Child Care Partnership (the local Child Care Resource & Referral agency and SFTA member), who will provide a PIWI certified trainer for the Baby Cafés. Northwest Breastfeeding Network is also a partner in planning, and may offer the opportunity for Baby Cafés to extend beyond the funded period, as a continuing monthly or bi-monthly event, where a lactation specialist would be available.

In addition to Baby Cafés, the agency’s PIWI funding will be used to create ten “Play with Me” bags—with mobile and non-mobile infants in mind—for families to check out for up to a month. The bags will contain items such as washable toys and other materials focused on different developmental periods, to support child development and parent-child interactions. Kari recently submitted a grant to an area community foundation to create 20 more bags focused on preschool -aged children, to expand this effort beyond infants.

The agency has also budgeted to build an infant-toddler library containing high-quality materials that can be used to support PIWI implementation. The libraries are housed within latched transport tubs for easy mobility, so that if another agency wants to create and support a PIWI play group or Baby Café, they have materials to get them started.

Finally, a portion of the PIWI funding will be used to support child care programs with 2 or 3 Star ratings in YoungStar, Wisconsin’s Child Care Quality Rating & Improvement System, in understanding and implementing PIWI. Family Resource Center of Eau Claire County has connected with two child care programs in Eau Claire that have large infant populations. Together they plan to offer a PIWI coaching clinic in the fall where providers from other programs will be invited. The clinic will be followed by triadic coaching in the classrooms to teach providers how to implement PIWI into their program on a regular basis.

“Our desired outcome would be that we continue the collaboration, the partnerships that we have created through this,” said Kari. “We are all in this together. We are really very tickled with the collaborative piece of this.”

Family Connections of Southwest Wisconsin

Funding received by Family Connections of Southwest Wisconsin (Child Care Resource & Referral agency and SFTA member), will be focused in Lafayette County, according to Executive Director Sabrina Earl. The agency has already built community connections in this county through the Parent Cafés they are currently hosting, and this area has been identified as having higher Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) scores compared to the rest of the agency’s service delivery area. A higher ACE score indicates an individual is at a greater risk for physical and mental health issues, and poorer overall outcomes. PIWI funding directed where these higher risks exist will target those who need it most.

“So often our families are not connecting anymore,” said Sabrina. “I really think families need that connection.”

Family Connections of SWWI, true to its name, is creating an opportunity for families to connect through their PIWI funding. Three families from a local 2 Star child care program and three families from Head Start will be chosen based on need, to meet at the Darlington Community Center starting in September. They will meet weekly for an hour and a half to 2 hours, for 6 weeks. Families will take part in guided activities centered on PIWI, facilitated by Sabrina and a family resource center staff member. Head Start and child care program staff will shadow the sessions in order to learn effective PIWI implementation. Participating families will also be encouraged to participate in Parent Cafés to continue to build supports and connect with parents in other venues. After the initial 6-week period funded by this grant, Head Start plans to continue monthly meetings with families in their services in a similar fashion, while the child care provider will use PIWI to support continuing family engagement in their program.

Northwest Connection Family Resources

Northwest Connection Family Resources is working with multiple community partners to implement their PIWI funding, including UW Extension Educator, Indianhead Community Action Agency Head Start, Sawyer County Birth to 3, Hayward Community Schools, the Mino Maajiswein Home Visitation Program and Star Bright Daycare.  Two planning meetings have taken place thus far, to outline community needs, partnership roles and anticipated outcomes. These meetings also involved discussions about recruitment and how to support parent/child pairs in expanding on their current strengths to reach higher levels of engagement and learning.

Up to eight parent/child pairs will attend a 6-week PIWI-focused series.  Community partners will identify two families they would like to invite to the first series, which will begin Thursday, April 21st from 9:30 to 11 am at Northwest Connection Family Resources. Because social emotional competency is the foundation of early childhood development, the series covers related topic areas including:  What Makes Me Laugh and Why I Need You.  Participants will be encouraged to attend every session through weekly incentives, and a completion certificate and incentive given to each family.  Child care will be offered for siblings in order to effectively support the participating parent/child pairs during the PIWI program.

“In every session, through a variety of activities, songs and books, parents will learn about their child’s development, temperament, and interests while having fun together in developmentally supportive environments,” said Northwest Connection Family Resources Co-Director, Kathy Mullally.

Northwest Connections Family Resources will continue to gain valuable insight from partners and parents through this first series, which will help guide the planning for the next PIWI series to be held in the fall.

Stay tuned to our social media and partner agency websites for updates on these awesome efforts!

*This article was originally published in SFTA’s Q1 2016 newsletter. View the full newsletter here, and access previous newsletters through our publication archives.

Family Engagement Criteria in Action: WI Child Care Providers

Family quote

When a family is actively engaged in their child’s early learning, in child care and at home, it not only positions them to better understand their child’s growth and needs, it strengthens supports for that child’s development and school readiness (NAEYC). The importance of this connection is why the 2016 YoungStar Draft Evaluation Criteria states that starting in 2017 child care programs participating in YoungStar will be required to earn points for family engagement practices; one point to earn a 3 Star, and two points to earn a 4 or 5 Star.

The family engagement criteria consist of five categories. Beyond these categories, depending on the star level your program is striving to achieve or maintain, there are tiered requirements that demonstrate the depth of the activities you implement, a set amount of categories that have to be covered, and a certain number of family engagement activities that programs must achieve. For a more in depth idea of what that entails, you can take a look at the Family and Group Family Engagement Criteria, or ask about additional technical consultation and free or low-cost training surrounding the family engagement point(s) at your local YoungStar office. For now, we are going to take a look at what family engagement might look like in each tier (A and B), of the five family engagement criteria categories, to get you thinking about how you can incorporate more family engagement into your program to meet these requirements.

  1. Transition: An ongoing process to ensure children and families are informed and supported through changes in a child’s placement within, or in relation to, their child care program. Examples:file000264362061
    Tier A) There is a policy in place that outlines a plan to ease transition for children moving to a new classroom.
    Tier B) Implement a “buddy system” for transitioning children to a new classroom, where two children get transitioned together so they know someone in their new room. Let them pick a favorite toy or stuffed animal from their old room to take with them to the new room.
  2. Family Involvement (Engagement): Family involvement is participation of families in events and activities the program plans for families. Family engagement is the ongoing, shared responsibility by programs and families to support children’s learning and development, where families work with programs to plan events, activities, and program changes.
    Involvement = for families, engagement = with families.file0001201671580 Examples:
    Tier A) Program offers at least 3 opportunities throughout the year for families to participate in the child care program, such as coming along on a class field trip or coming to eat lunch with their child on a special occasion (Family Involvement).
    Tier B) Create a committee with parents and staff to plan program events and activities together (Family Engagement).
  3. Family Communications Strategies: If programs know how to most effectively communicate with the families in their care, they can build meaningful relationships. Examples:Comment box Tier A) Have a question on the intake form about the family’s preferred method of communication; e.g. call, e-mail, text, etc.
    Tier B) Have a suggestion box for parents to give feedback and/or make recommendations for the program. The program can use suggestions from parents/families to make positive changes, showing parents that their input matters.
  4. Family Support Strategies: When programs have the tools and strategies in place to support families in areas of need, especially during stressful times, it enhances positive interactions between the program and the family, as well as the family and their child.Clothes
    Examples:
    Tier A) Program has a written policy outlining how they will gather information from families about their culture and values, and acknowledging a family’s right to make decisions for their child.
    Tier B) Have an exchange table at the program where families can donate items that their child has grown out of so other families who need those items can take them.
  5. Family/Community Connection Strategies: By building and maintaining strong relationships throughout their community, with family support organizations, businesses, etc., early education programs can more readily connect families with extra supports when needed.Examples:Garden
    Tier A) Demonstrate the program is sponsoring or participating in local community events at least twice throughout the year, by having a sign-up sheet for the event, pictures, or fliers.
    Tier B) Involve children and families in community service projects through their child care program, such as participating in a local food drive, or working in a community garden.

Barriers to family engagement:

Sometimes engaging and involving families in your child care program takes some extra time and effort. It means building solid relationships with your families and working from that foundation to create a stronger sense of engagement and shared commitment to the program and the children it serves. Don’t let one setback discourage you. As the provider it is up to you to continually try to engage families in their children’s experience at your program. Here are a few barriers to family engagement you might consider:

  • Time of day that the event is being held. Maybe you can have the event at two separate times to allow people options to choose from (morning and evening), or survey families to see what works best for the majority. Drop off and pick up times may work well since families already plan on being there.
  • Length of event. Is your event a realistic amount of time for families with young children to stay? Are families expected to stay for the entire event? An “open house” approach where families can come and go within the allotted time for the event may work better for some families.
  • Interrupted meal times or hunger. Provide food of some kind at the event for parents and family members who may have just come from work or need a little extra incentive to get there.
  • Age-appropriate activities. Are there activities for all family members who are expected to attend? Consider older/younger siblings.
  • Transportation. Do all of your families have ready access to a car or other transportation? Partner with a bus service, community car resource or have volunteer drivers to make sure all families can get to any events. Families might be willing to carpool if you work with them to create a car pool calling tree or social media event ahead of time.

…and remember, any event or effort where you have families help plan will drastically increase their interest in participating.

The family engagement examples offered here are only a few ideas out of a million that are out there. Start this process by sitting down on your own or with staff to brainstorm what you are already doing in your program to engage families. As you move forward to implement new ideas, make sure your staff is on board– classroom teachers are the most immediate connection from your program to your parents and they can play a big part in whether families choose to engage. Finally, don’t forget that you can always contact your local YoungStar office for assistance in receiving additional technical assistance for family engagement, and to access family engagement trainings in your area.

Take the supports you need, and have fun with this process! In the end, engaging your families in your program will not only make it a more positive, fruitful learning experience for the children, it will prove a valuable partnership for you and your program.

*Most definitions, examples and possible barriers were pulled from the Family (p.52-66) or Group (p.72-86) 2016 YoungStar Draft Evaluation Criteria, and related documents. If you are a school-age provider, or a licensed day camp, explore your family engagement criteria in the school-age provider 2016 criteria (p.60-73) or the licensed day camp 2016 criteria (p.60-73). Many of the examples given can be used across program types, whether family, group, school-age, or day camp.

Wisconsin Parent Cafés: Engaging Parents and Children

What is a Parent Café? Think of a cozy coffee shop or restaurant where you feel safe and comfortable, and it is easy to chat with the person sitting next to you. Parent Cafés guide parents to explore the Strengthening Families™ Protective Factors in a small group setting through a peer-to-peer learning process and individual self-reflection. Cafés provide a safe and nurturing environment for parents to have authentic, intimate conversations about their families and ways that they can strengthen their families and communities. Parents build enhanced social and emotional skills and learn how to proactively respond to challenging situations. Throughout this process parents acquire the leadership skills necessary to engage, train and lead Parent Cafés within their own community. Supporting Families Together Association (SFTA) is partnering with agencies in 11 counties across Wisconsin to offer Parent Cafés to Wisconsin parents.

If you are a member agency participating in Parent Cafés, another agency looking to start your own Parent Cafés, or simply an educator or a parent looking for some fun children’s activities that celebrate caregivers, check out the 3 simple ideas below! These pair perfectly with Parent Café themes– which are indicated– and can be used in a variety of other settings. Thanks to Kendra Scherg of Kimberly, for these fantastic activities and examples! Find more Parent Café activity ideas on our Pinterest board.

Cup of Calm ExamplesCup of Calm TextPrint: Cup of Calm Text

My Hug Examples

My Hug Text

Print: My Hug Text

Super Parent Examples

Super Parent Text

Print: Super Parent Text

Stay tuned to our website to find out where and when Parent Cafés are happening and how you can register to attend a Parent Café in your part of the state!

This Parent Café opportunity is available with funding from Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Grant through the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.