These scenes may be familiar – parents reaching out to other children and families, neighbours supporting parents and newcomers, caregivers accessing community resources when needed, older youth matched with younger reading buddies, teens being mentored by professionals, local seniors telling their stories to wide-eyed school children, community gardeners teaching children about food production…. The possibilities are endless….
How can we make sure this happens?
The power is in the community! There are many pathways to supporting children’s learning and healthy development. We now know that improving the capacity of parents, caregivers, teachers, educators and all citizens to support children is the key to improving outcomes for children. Communities are ripe with assets – parents and caregivers, stories, skills, neighbours, groups, businesses, volunteers, libraries, churches, etc. However, these assets can often remain untapped. Caring adults need the information, tools, access to resources and supports and the inspiration to be supported in this key role. This presents an exciting opportunity – being purposeful about highlighting knowledge and best practice, and engaging the collective strengths in each and every community to support healthy development and learning.
Research shows that building strong relationships, communities and social capital positively impacts outcomes for children. These strength-based, community-building elements are foundational to our work in these contexts:
- Supporting parent leaders, family support workers, community and school educators with resources to help guide parents and caregivers in supporting their child’s healthy foundation. Café provides orientation and easy-to-follow resources for hosting Parent Café conversations focused on applying what we now know about early brain development and parental resilience in our day-to-day interactions with young children – see Cafe’s Early Childhood Development
- Supporting schools and/or their extended communities with resources to further engage parents and caregivers in supporting young readers. When teachers, families and the broader communities are collectively engaged in the learning process children benefit. Our Parent Café conversation guide offers a tool for exploring the important role of caring adults in building strong readers and reading communities – see Cafe’s Supporting Literacy and Learning
- Supporting communities and their organizations in mobilizing to support children. Café offers resources for community-based leaders and educators to find collective ways to support and improve the life of our young learners by focusing on initiatives such as early childhood development, building readers, education for new Canadians, and many other community-based learning initiatives. – see Community Development Learning
The capacity-building elements inherent in Café’s framework and rationale include emerging research and developments in early childhood development, educational leadership and learning theories, along with remarked shifts in understanding how communities can effectively mobilize and drive their own development. Advancements in policy and practice linking healthy development, learning and community development are growing as the key role of parent and community engagement is increasingly recognized for positively impacting childhood outcomes. Integral to this is the need for developing and supporting growth in both individual and collective capacities.
A Foundation of Community
We all have a role to play! A community development lens offers an avenue for engaging outward. Children cannot do it alone, nor can parents and caregivers. When we consider our hopes and dreams for the children in our life and community we are really considering our hopes for our whole society. We now know is not a cliché to say the future of our society lies in our children.
- A child’s relationships, environment and everyday interactions are key to building a strong foundation. (Alberta Family Wellness Initiative, Harvard Centre on the Developing Child).
- Social capital theory tells us that quality relationships with caring adults in a child’s life are linked to positive outcomes for learning and development. (Search Institute, Developmental Assets).
- Learning from successful community capacity building and mobilization is articulated in an asset-based community development (ABCD). This approach to development outlines these key shared elements of success: a focus on relationship building, a strength-based orientation, and use of existing assets. As such, we know that families and communities are filled with untapped strengths and assets that can be engaged and mobilized in support of young children. (ABCD Institute, Coady International Institute).