An Advocacy Letter for Early Childhood Family Education

The Quiet Power of ECFE

A wise counselor once told me that, when we look back on our lives, there will only have been a handful of things that truly shaped us. Things, that when reflected upon, were catalysts for change, forcing us to see the world differently or take a new road; situations or decisions that challenged us to the core, creating new beliefs, habits and perspective. These are the things we would remain grateful for, acknowledging the genuine impact they had in our lives.

I’m thirty seven, have three kids ages ten to four, and have lived in St. Paul for nine years. When my oldest was born I had no idea the challenges that lay before me – the power struggles, sleep trouble, discipline strategies and diet issues. Enforcing any sort of boundary was new territory, let alone the confusion that comes along with constantly changing stages of development. Becoming a parent, with all its facets, left me feeling isolated at times. I had never been a mother before, and I was stumbling through as best I knew how.

One day, during our first summer in St. Paul, a neighbor asked if I knew about ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education). She said it is a public school program for ages birth to five where children and parents play together, then separate for a time. Children have their first introductions to “school” while the parents have an educational class and drink coffee. I was lonely, and my son’s sleepless nights left me exhausted, so honestly, it was the adult-only coffee time that hooked me. I signed up the same week.

Quickly, ECFE became more than just a relaxing break from my child. While the coffee was enjoyable, it immediately took a backseat to the support that was offered and the knowledge I gained. For nine years and two additional children, I looked forward to my mornings at ECFE and attended faithfully. Slowly, and gently, I was molded into a much different parent.

First of all, being in a group of parents who are also navigating the ups and downs of early childhood is comforting. There is an air of understanding and a lack of judgement. We’ve all been there. There is no problem presented by a parent that doesn’t solicit a series of nods and empathetic murmurs. Parents sort through issues together, which diffuses the frustration and allows for clear thought. Then there is the parent educator, who provides research-based knowledge, always pointing out that what works for one may not work for all. It gave me great relief knowing I had a place to turn with the frustrating predicaments that otherwise may have caused my parenting (and child) to suffer.

Secondly, many of the topics discussed at ECFE were life-altering. This may sound dramatic, but knowing how to talk to your baby or toddler about bodies, for example, opens a channel for the sex-talks of the future. And it is that openness between parents and children that can literally protect them from sexual predators and potential poor decisions that may otherwise have a negative and lifelong impact. Many parents, such as myself, were not taught openly about such issues, and therefore desperately needed the guidance to talk to (and therefore protect) our children.

But the body talk was only one of a range of topics covered at ECFE, from learning styles and early literacy to praise vs. encouragement; throughout all of which was the thread that emphasized the importance of connectedness between parents and children. The topics were informative and occasionally presented by professionals in our community. The discussions gave me not only the parenting tools I did not have, but also tools I never knew I needed. It is all too easy to fall (even subconsciously) into parenting patterns that we find familiar or safe, but aren’t necessarily the best approach when it comes to teaching our children. We all need a gentle nudge in the right direction when we wander off-course, and this is what ECFE and its many parenting topics provides. ECFE essentially gives us the parenting manual we all wish we had been sent home from the hospital with – adapted for age and fully equipped with an educator and support.

As parents, we rarely sit back to consider the weight of our impact. We are raising humans, and these humans are going to come in touch with and influence hundreds, if not thousands, of people in their lives. They will most likely raise other humans that will impact thousands more. They will shape others. And yet, so much of the pain and problems of this world go back to the home. To the love of the parents. To the connectedness and the tools they had or did not have to thrive. I’ve heard it said that “parents do the best they can with the tools they have,” – which leaves me to wonder how the world would change if parents were given even just some of the tools they lacked.

It has been nine years since that first class, and as I left my last ECFE in the spring, I knew I was walking away a different person. I walked away with years of empowering knowledge that would protect my relationships with my children in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise known. I was molded into a more involved parent, a stronger mother, and a better citizen. My children, their community and the larger world they touch, will be better because of it. So, yes, if I could name, over my life to date, the handful of things that had truly shaped me, ECFE would be on that list. I am grateful beyond words. And though I will miss the guidance over the years to come, I will hold on to the strong foundation it provided during the critical span of early childhood. It has provided so much good.

If you are a new parent, I encourage you to give ECFE a chance. At the very least, your child will be lovingly guided while you enjoy the comradery of other parents over a cup of coffee. And who knows, like me, you may glean some helpful knowledge you didn’t know your family needed.

If you are a legislator, I thank you for your support of this program, and ask for your continued support. ECFE is strengthening our communities on the most foundational level. It is a quiet, yet powerful force with an astronomical impact on parents, their relationships with their children, and ultimately our world.

 

“In the home begins the disruption of the peace of the world.”

“Love begins by taking care of the closest ones – the ones at home.”

– Mother Teresa

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