Children love being a part of something special. And to them, nothing is more special than their families.
It’s crucial to a child’s development to feel part of a family and to have that family recognized and respected by the broader community. That’s why at Primrose Schools®, we welcome and celebrate all families and encourage children to feel a sense of pride in who they are and where they come from.
“Children start to develop their self-confidence and their concept of self very young,” says Dr. Maria Shaheen, senior director of early childhood education at Primrose Schools. “To grow up self-assured and confident, they need to know that they’re valued and their family is valued.”
The Role of Family in Child Development
The human brain develops most rapidly between birth and age 3, then continues to develop until about age 25, says Lynn Louise Wonders, licensed therapist and child development and parenting expert. Children must have their most basic needs met — safety, love, belonging — before they can grow academically and socially. Ideally, a family provides that foundation, Wonders says.
“If they’re not getting those basic needs of safety and security met, then the brain is not developing to its optimum,” she says. “And if it doesn’t, they’re going to have a much harder time in life. That sense of belonging is crucial.”
Celebrating Families at Primrose Schools
At Primrose schools, there’s a yearlong emphasis on “belongingness,” letting each child know that who they are is welcome and valued. This starts by getting to know families. Each family fills out a “Family Introductions” form that includes questions about the names of people in the home and what the child calls them, the languages they speak at home and the holidays they celebrate. Families can share cultural traditions that are special to them with the class if they choose.
In the classroom, family photos are often displayed on walls or bulletin boards. This gives children a sense of comfort and pride as well as an opportunity to see what other families, and therefore the broader community, look like.
The Balanced Learning® curriculum includes books that depict a broad range of family types, Shaheen says. “You want every child to see themselves reflected in the curriculum. They can say, ‘Hey, my family is like that, too. I live with just my mom, and sometimes I go with my dad. If it’s in a book and my teacher’s reading it, and my teacher is so important to me, then I see I’m valued as well.’”
Teachers at Primrose schools are trained to be sensitive to different types of families. For example, not every child will have a parent to make a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day craft for, and some children have two moms or two dads to celebrate. Children might be navigating a divorce or loss, or living with their grandparents or a guardian.
“Children don’t need labels,” Shaheen says. “The love and support is the important part.”
Talking to Children About Different Kinds of Families
Children will have questions about different kinds of families, and that’s normal and healthy, Wonders says. “It’s helpful for adults to answer these questions in a very normalizing way. Let the child know that families come in all shapes and sizes.”
Give children age-appropriate, honest information without telling them adult details they might not be ready for, Wonders adds. For example, if your child asks why Cece doesn’t live with her mom or dad, you could say: “In Cece’s family, her grandparents are the loving adults who take care of her. That is what her family looks like, because families look different.” You could then point out what makes you alike: “Both Cece’s family and our family have a dog. Isn’t that cool?”
The key is to help children understand that our differences are what make us interesting, but also that families share common elements: home, food, laughter and love.
“Let the child lead the conversation,” Wonders says. “If you give children a chance, they’ll make sense of things, because they are naturally nonjudgmental.”
For more on how we embrace every child and family at Primrose schools, read:
- Fostering a Sense of Belonging in Every Child
- A Child Development Approach That Takes the Pressure Off Families
- 4 Books About Belonging for Children
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