I have actually contemplated opening a family child care program. I therefore have given some thought to what a welcoming program might look like.
The visual and material environment of a family child care home needs to take advantage of its natural connection to the community. Marcy Whitebook, et al (2006) indicate that family child care programs reflect the culture and language characteristics of the community. Whitebook et al state, “…licensed providers are an ethnically and linguistically diverse group, more closely approximating the backgrounds of children and families than teachers in the K-12 public school system.”
With this in mind, the visual and material environment would include environmental print, photographs and artifacts that reflect the cultural and linguistic diversity of not only the families served, but of the larger community in which these families live, work and play – this would include daily schedules, menus, bulletin boards and communication to families. I have the last copies of a wonderful poster, Involving Men in the Lives of Young Children. This brochure/poster is no longer in print, but was available from NAEYC. I would put up this poster in the welcoming area of my home to make sure that the men in the child’s life also felt welcome. The planning committee of our Los Angeles County Male Engagement Collaborative just began a conversation on designing a new poster ourselves.
I would make it a point to have a rich assortment of books that reflect the cultures, languages, work and play environments, natural environments, and family forms of the community. The nature of the community may dictate the choice of books. For example, the book, Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch, one of my personal favorites, may not be appropriate in a community where children are experiencing homelessness as the use of the word “bum” in the book may trigger real life insults that the children might experience.
Materials in the dramatic play area would reflect diversity of culture, gender, and language. It will be critical to provide materials that reflect the home life of the children, including dolls, clothing, utensils, artifacts, props, and environmental print.
In the block area, I would use “block people” available from Lakeshore Learning and Discount School Supply in intentional ways. For example, to reflect mixed race families and diverse family forms, I might set out block people that could not be put into a traditional, mono-racial family form. This might provoke an “ongoing way for for children to learn about diversity…” (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010).
The visual environment would also need to include photographs of the children and their families in their home or out-of-school social settings. At one program I taught at, we created a home-school backpack. The backpack contained some books, a disposable camera, a sketch pad and markers, and a stuffed animal (an elephant). Each child took a turn at taking the backpack home. They were invited to take three or four photos of things that were important to them. They were asked to draw in the sketchbook and read the books with their family. At the end, the photos were developed and the sketchbook became a classroom book. The stuffed animal joined us at circle time and sometimes “helped” the children tell stories of what they did at home.
The choice of materials would also reflect the social and economic realities of the community. For example, in low income communities where food scarcity is a reality, I would not use real food items for play, arts and crafts, or sensory experiences. I would be mindful of the terms that I use, such as substituting the word “home” or “shelter” for “house”. I might avoid the use of shiny new objects and artifacts and furnishings for used, recycled, repurposed or natural objects and artifacts in order to honor the economic realities faced by children and families experiencing economic difficulties.
I would incorporate outdoor and nature-related activities as these are typically free. I would include the surrounding community, using parks, and neighborhood walks in order to give the children a sense of community pride. In the past, I have even gone on walks with children where we picked up litter in the neighborhood (using gloves of course). We glued the litter on butcher paper and displayed it on a board.
Napping and Quiet areas were mentioned by Adriana Castillo as critical parts of the environment (Laureate Education, n.d.). I hadn’t given thought to this in my original contemplations, but upon reflection, I think that familiar objects and sounds might be valuable to comfort and soothe the children. This might take the form of quiet music, books, posters or photos, linen or tapestry selection, and scents.
I also appreciated how Adriana Castillo invited the families to share things from home (Laureate Education. nd.). Space permitting, it might be wonderful to have a display area, like a miniature museum in the welcoming area. I’ve been considering using a large aquarium to place shared artifacts in so that children could see them, but that they wouldn’t be damaged and could be returned to the families in the same condition that they arrived.
Derman-Sparks, Louise & Edwards, Julie Olsen. 2010. Anti-bias education for young children and ourselves. National Association for the Education of Young Children. Washington, DC.
Laureate Education. n.d. Welcome to an anti-bias learning community transcript.
Whitebook, Marcy; Sakai, Laura; Kipnis, Fran; Lee, Yuna; Bellm, Dan; Speiglman, Richard; Almaraz, Mirella; Stubbs, LaToya & Tran, Paulina. 2006. California early care and education workforce study: licensed family child care providers Los Angeles County 2006. Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (Berkeley, CA), and the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network (San Francisco, CA).