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Everyday Education: The Family Place Helps Youngest Children

Early childhood education is the education of children from birth through age 5 and comes in many forms. Structured child care, preschool, church programs, play, art, imagination, dress up, building, exploration, outside time, reading, gardening and more are educational experiences which help children learn.

A child’s first years are where the cognitive, physical and emotional development are built. It’s a time of rapid brain development and growth. According to The First 2000 Days (an awareness campaign), “Child development is a dynamic, interactive process that is not predetermined. It occurs in the context of relationships, experiences and environments.”

Relationships, experi-ences and environments… powerful words, powerful components in a child’s life. Relationships can greatly influence who we are and what we become. This is especially true during a child’s early years.

Twenty-one years ago, a group of parents came together with a shared desire for peer support, socialization and play opportunities for their children and created The Family Place. Over the years the faces have changed, children have grown and parents have become grandparents. However, the core of The Family Place has stayed the same: an organization focused on supporting families and providing early learning experiences within the family environment.

We provide opportunities for young children to socialize and meet new friends while families connect in an informal setting, and we do this with a wide variety of programs. The Family Place offers Playgroups, Circle of Parent groups, The Incredible Years positive parenting classes, the Family Learning Garden, Stay Play, a new collaboration with El Centro called Community Playgroups and, coming soon, English as a Second Language classes. Through state and local funding, donations and fundraisers we can offer all our programs at no cost.

The following are snapshots of a few of the programs at The Family Place. Playgroups allow parents and caregivers to drop-in and have a preschool-like experience alongside their children. Families play, read books, sing songs, create art and explore new sensory experiences while socializ-ing with other families. Our early childhood educators facilitate these developmen-tally appropriate activities and model positive social interactions. The hope is to support a child’s develop-ment, educate parents about age-appropriate expectations and get kids ready for kindergarten.

“Full-time preschool wasn’t a good fit for our family. The Family Place has given our 4-year-old the space to socialize in an educational setting while we both make positive, supportive friendships,” said Sara, a parent.

Our Circle of Parents groups are firmly established in the belief system of parent empowerment. Parents are encouraged to become advocates for themselves, their families and their communities. Parents and caregivers meet in a safe, non-judgmental space to communicate and share with other parents about challenges to celebrations.

One parent said, “I moved to the area with my husband, 3-year-old and 18-month-old, and this has been our support system and Brevard family from day one. It has been our lifeline to the community. My kids love it here and ask to come every day.”

Circle of Parent groups include a structured children’s program which emphasizes the importance of working with the family as a “whole” and reinforcing family support principles. Children’s programs provide a safe and supportive environment that gives children the opportunity to develop self-esteem, social skills, learn safe and healthy ways to handle feelings, as well as problem-solving and conflict resolution tech-niques.

Community Playgroups, a collaborative effort with El Centro, is a mobile combination of Playgroups and Circle of Parents and is funded by United Way. The focus of this program is to reach families with children between the ages of 0 and 6 that are currently not accessing or under accessing community services.

Facilitated playgroups are built around the premise that providing sufficient familial support for early learning and development will help prepare children for future academic and social success. The playgroups provide increased parental awareness of developmental milestones, the importance of providing early learning experiences, and can raise parental sensitivity and responsiveness.

The mission of The Family Place is to strengthen families and help build resiliency through support, education and community building. Our programs are venues that assist parents and caregivers to build a network of support that extends outside the walls of the building.

As Mr. Rogers once said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.”

(Erin Drew is executive director of The Family Place of Transylvania County.)