Posted November 20, 2018 by Jeff Wilkerson
A child’s educational journey begins long before setting foot inside the kindergarten classroom. From birth to age 5, the brain undergoes more development than at any other time in life. A child’s environment and enrichment during this critical period has a lasting impact on the ability to thrive in school and beyond.
That’s why Nebraska early childhood researcher Lisa Knoche continues to refine Getting Ready, a child- and parent-focused, strengths-based intervention aimed at enhancing the school readiness of children ages 0-5. The program supports early childhood development by strengthening two types of relationships: parent-child and parent-educator. Getting Ready is currently funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families and the Nebraska Department of Education.
Here, Knoche, research associate professor in the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools, talks about Getting Ready’s purpose, challenges and next steps.
Describe how Getting Ready strengthens the parent-child and parent-educator relationships to better prepare children for school.
The Getting Ready approach is a process of interacting with families during all exchanges with them – during formal interactions like home visits and conferences, and informal interactions like drop-off, pickup and email communications. It builds on each child and family’s individual strengths. It’s not a packaged, standalone program, but rather an approach for infusing meaningful parent engagement into all aspects of the natural early childhood environment. For the past 15 years, we’ve tested this intervention in many settings that serve young children of different ages, including preschool and home-based infant toddler programs.
What are the current goals for the program?
We are, for the first time, conducting a trial of Getting Ready for infants and toddlers in center-based child care programs. This is critical because so many young children are cared for in such settings. The question we’re exploring is: When given support, can teachers and parents work together to promote young children’s development?
What problem(s) was this approach designed to solve?
During the early childhood years, before children enter school, there is an opportunity to get children and parents started on the right foot to promoting healthy development and lifelong success. Parent engagement is one of the best ways to do this, but many education professionals are not sure how to go about encouraging true partnerships with parents.
Getting Ready offers a solution: It is an evidence-based method for impacting parent engagement and improving children’s developmental outcomes. Teachers using our approach report that parents who were reluctant to participate in programming are now sharing priorities and insights. In addition, teachers say that Getting Ready enhances their confidence to work with families, and in turn, families gain confidence.
What is innovative about Getting Ready vis-à-vis other birth to age 5 programs?
We focus squarely on parent-educator partnerships using a bidirectional approach. This contrasts the “parent involvement” approach, where centers or teachers push information to families about activities they can do with their children or times they can come to the center or program to participate in a family activity. The Getting Ready approach does not suggest or prescribe activities for parents. Instead, we hear, support and engage parents in meaningful interactions to jointly determine experiences that will support children’s development. We recognize that the strengths and priorities of both families and educators are valuable and critical to young children’s learning.
What has been the biggest challenge in implementing this approach?
Time. In order for educators to effectively work with families, they need time to reflect, set goals and plan. Finding this time has been challenging, as educators’ professional lives are busy and demanding. Getting Ready takes more time to learn than a one-size-fits-all approach, especially early on when the information is new for teachers. Over time, though, the demand lessens.
After the current funding periods end, what are the next steps forward?
As researchers, we spend time developing, refining and testing educational interventions with the hope that our end product will become part of the early education field and be used in practice. We are fortunate this is already the case with Getting Ready. Part C Services, which serve Nebraska’s infants and toddlers with disabilities, has adopted the approach for use statewide. We’re working with state partners, as well as partners in South Dakota, to create an infrastructure that will enable Getting Ready to become self-sustaining.
We also continue to disseminate the research widely and develop a manual and training materials. We are continually learning about the best methods for reaching families, especially through social media and other technologies. We need to keep refining Getting Ready given these new preferred modes of communication and connection.
The research team also includes Christine Marvin, professor of special education and communication disorders, and Susan Sheridan, CYFS director and George Holmes University Professor of educational psychology.