This fact sheet is designed to answer some basic questions about family centered learning and to encourage a family considering the program to take the next step by contacting a family centered learning professional. A family centered program is an alternative approach to learning, one that takes a comprehensive view of the entire context in which a child learns and grows, including their cultural and religious background as well as any unique circumstances that are part of their family dynamic. Family centered learning programs also take into account the community in which a family lives. For example, family centered programs are always looking for resources to recommend to families and ways to make it easier for families to take advantage of resources in their community.
Traditional schools have a lot to offer students. Along with core academic subjects, many schools provide students with music, art, and dance classes as well as field trips and mentors from the community. Traditional schools also have associations like the PTA to give parents a venue in which to participate in events at their child’s school, and opportunities for parents to volunteer, both in the classroom and on field trips. However, they fall short in one very important respect. The model for traditional schools has been one in which teachers are the professionals who develop the programs from which children learn, while parents are encouraged to participate as volunteers with no input into the learning process. Parent volunteers are important, but of even greater value is a family centered approach to education that recognizes children learn and grow in a family.
When education is tied to both the classroom and the home, a child’s development in one setting is reinforced in the other, improving that development in both settings. Even better, the more improvement a family sees, the more motivated they are to get more involved in the child’s education. Family centered learning programs build a partnership with the family, where members feel confident talking to the teacher about the child’s strengths and weaknesses. When a possible concern is identified, the family and teacher can work together to address it. The more they work together, the stronger the partnership becomes between the family and the learning program, which in turn benefits the child even further.
Family centered learning programs have core principles that strengthen the bond they form with families. They keep families up to date on student progress and with the help of the family determine factors that foster greater achievement for the student. They strongly encourage volunteering by reaching out to families and scheduling events so families can get involved in the program. The family centered program offers techniques for involvement in learning activities and parenting classes. These programs include families in decisions about the programs. Families have actual input in decisions that affect their child’s education, which in turn encourages the family to become more involved in that education. The programs also coordinate resources with local businesses, fostering strong ties to the community.
These programs can be very challenging because of the great diversity of the families involved. There may be children coming together in an exciting mix of different religious beliefs, national origins, races, and languages. Some of the children will be exceptional, either with developmental delays or unusual gifts. The program must be prepared to acknowledge the unique needs of each child and work with each family to meet those needs. In many cases, families will need to access community resources and it is critical that the family be able to make use of those resources. The family centered approach to learning is a big change from traditional schools but one well worth considering for any family vitally interested in their child’s education, as according to Snow studies show that “meaningful family engagement in children’s early learning supports school readiness and later academic success.”
- Snow, K., Ph.D. (n.d.). Research News You Can Use: Family Engagement and Early Childhood Education. Retrieved June 27, 2017, from https://naeyc.org/content/research-news-family-engagement