by April Dodge-Ostendorf
I wanted to know what it takes to meaningfully engage families so I turned to an expert! Meet Katey, a vivacious mom from Kansas. During a Q&A session, Katey provided a glimpse into what family engagement means to her family as she opened up about her relationship with her 2-year-old son’s family child care provider.
Like many families, Katey and her husband realized that they needed two incomes to support their family after only a short time home with her newborn son. While her husband worked long irregular hours, Katey soon picked up late night shifts serving tables to guarantee daily cash flow. She reflects that “it takes a village,” mostly her mom and a close friend, to cover gaps during the hours when child care isn’t traditionally available. Listen in as Katey’s story gives a voice to family engagement in child care.
Tell me about how you first met your child care provider?
In July of last year, so 2016, I was referred to her by my husband’s step mother. I guess she had watched her children when they were younger.
Reflecting back, what questions would you have liked your provider to ask you about your family?
Maybe a little about whether we lived in a bit of a stressful environment. When she noticed that he was starting to be more of a whiny child, she didn’t really show any concern about what was going on at home. I thought that was a little weird. She did ask a little about an eating schedule, but didn’t ask if he had a blankie that he slept with. He is just like that Peanuts character. Loves his blankie.
Any question you wish you would have asked your provider?
I wish I had asked about activities. Like, I didn’t ask if they do them at a certain time. I guess I still don’t know what time lunch time is — I should have asked about their schedule.
Early on what did the provider do to make you feel comfortable with her?
I think kids are very intuitive. It made me feel very comfortable seeing how comfortable he was. He would go right to her in the morning. Even on the second or third day he would go right to her. It kinda broke my heart a little bit thinking, ‘Oh but you’re my baby.’ I felt a lot better because he was happy to be there.
What opportunities have you had to get to know your son’s child care provider?
I had a grandparent pass away like two months into my son going there. She and I got into a very adult conversation about our grandparents and how much they taught us. I thought it was a lovely talk because I got to know a little bit about her. Why she works the way she does and how she likes to be outside.
How does she make you you feel included in your son’s day, even when you aren’t there?
After he has developed a new sentence or ability to solve a problem, she’ll let me know about it. I think that is really cool. It’s like, they take a nap and wake up 20 times smarter. She’ll tell me a new sentence he said or that he started walking… I was really sad I couldn’t be a part of that.
She’s always kept me informed about things like how far he walked or how he sat up by himself. That was all very exciting and helped me not feel like I was missing as much.
Let’s talk about the boundaries! What are some boundaries that your provider should know about?
So, our boundaries in our house are that you keep to yourself. You can help others, you can tell others the truth, but don’t reveal too much information. It’s not like everybody needs to know your business. Well, my child care provider has been telling my friend about my child. Like, [him] being too whiny during the day. That really upset me. She even told my friend about the other child in the home. I guess the other child is acting whiney at home as well now. She’s telling my friend that the other parent is blaming my child. It’s not even my friend’s business.
It sounds like privacy is a valued boundary in your family. Now let’s talk about things she does to make you feel respected?
[My son] is lactose intolerant. This may sound silly, but even down to giving him non-dairy snacks. My own mother-in-law will give him Cheez-Its.
She never interrupts me! When I am telling her how my son is feeling that morning she fully acknowledges me and takes itinto consideration. I really appreciate that because I feel like she actually listens to me.
Everything we’ve talked about today describes “family engagement” in child care. How do you define that term?
Really getting to know the parents. Seeing what kind of parent they are so they know how to talk to the parents.
What are some examples of family engagement that really stand out?
For holidays, I definitely feel like she engages us, she gets everybody a sweet little easter basket so that everybody is included. She’ll write a little note about why she likes your child. I remember the last holiday, she said she liked my son because of how smart he is and how he notices these little things.
Just her being involved with my child makes me want to be involved in that relationship with them. Being able to see how they have this special kind of love for each other. She is teaching him things that I can’t teach him.
The experiences reflected in Katey’s comments, like so many other families, illustrate the critical role child care plays in the ‘village’ families build around their children as they learn and grow during the early years. Katey, thank you for teaching us how to be better at coming alongside Moms like you to help you be the best first teacher for your child.