ARCHIVED—The Value and Importance of Values
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"Values" is not an abstract concept for early childhood educators. When educating children, values translate very quickly into practices. Values permeate every activity at early childhood education centres and preschools: putting toys away expresses values, as does making sure each child has fun.
The values children learn in their early years are among the most important lessons of their entire lives. Sharing, patience, hard work, curiosity, love: these are the attitudes and behaviours that get us through life.
Success in teaching these crucial lessons requires that parents and educators work together. How should educators define their values and embody them in their work? And what do they have to do to make sure they are on the same page as parents? In this section, Francine Ouellette Lavoie, Margaret Kelly and Sharon Larkins talk about some of the ways they meet these challenges.
Francine Ouellette Lavoie
"Everything we do here is about values. It doesn't matter how devoted I am, if the parents and I don't share the same values, my efforts are for nothing."
Centre de la petite enfance la Montgolfière
There are 256 children at the two locations of Centre de la petite enfance la Montgolfière. (The name means "the big balloon day care centre," montgolfière being the French for hot air balloon). "As a result, we have to do some things a bit formally here," explains Francine Ouellette Lavoie.
In late September or early October of every year, the parents come to the centre to meet with the staff. "This meeting is very important to me," says Ouellette Lavoie.
She prepares for the meeting by focussing on a theme. Last year, she made invitations based on an autumn leaf. On the centre stem of the leaf she wrote fonctionnement, which means operations. On all the veins branching off the stem she wrote the names of values, such as self-esteem, respect and autonomy.
In particular, Ouellette Lavoie always explains to the parents the values she hopes to instill in members of "Les Rigolos." This is the name of Ouellette Lavoie's group of children. It means the jokers. "I like it because it creates a sense of conspiracy in the group. We are conspiring together to have fun."
That sense of belonging is a huge part of Ouellette Lavoie's philosophy. Everything is connected to the theme and the theme drives the learning. Each week, month or season begins with changes to the way the centre is decorated. And the children help make the changes. Everything they do contributes to a central theme.
That is why Ouellette Lavoie makes sure parents know what she is going to do with her themes and why. Accompanying the invitation is a four-page document that explains matters such as this and defines the values.
"When the parents arrive, I can answer their questions, ask them about their expectations and take any suggestions they have."
"This is my life and my passion. I am so fortunate to be able to do this."
Tender Beginnings Child Care Centre
Nanaimo, British Columbia
Sharon Larkins and her staff at Tender Beginnings Child Care Centre in Nanaimo, British Columbia, also use some formal measures to communicate the values that govern their practices. They have a mission statement and values statement that they distribute to parents. Like Ouellette Lavoie, Larkins makes staff discuss these things with parents.
"The issue of values is discussed openly at the very beginning of each year in a meeting between staff and parents when the values statement and mission statement are introduced," she explains. Parents are encouraged to ask questions and raise concerns.
"We also seek regular feedback from parents as the year goes on," adds Larkins.
In addition to the values conveyed through the program, there are also the values children and their families bring with them, adds Larkins. And that means making accommodations. This is a value in itself and a crucial one, she says. "To be truly family-centred, you have to have respect for all."
For staff, making accommodations means dealing with each family's beliefs and practices in a flexible and understanding way. Larkins begins with an example of one of her own values. "I don't like gunsbut I understand that families might have a different belief than mine" she explains. "Rather than preaching my values, I encourage the children to understand the seriousness of guns and I offer different ideas and choices to encourage peaceful play."
"I'd be nothing without my staff. I always tell parents, the first thing you should check when evaluating a daycare is the rapport among the staff."
St. Alban's Daycare
Burnaby, British Columbia
Margaret Kelly at St. Alban's Daycare in Burnaby, British Columbia, works to ensure that everyone's values are acknowledged and respected, and involves the entire family, including members of the extended family (see "Bring the grandparents") in these efforts. "We work with the whole family and we get them involved right from the start," says Kelly.
Kelly and her staff begin by creating special occasions to bring the siblings, parents and grandparents into their program.
One regularly occurring event is the annual gingerbread house decorating party. "One of our parishioners bakes hundreds of slabs of gingerbread and we invite the parents and siblings to help decorate them," says Kelly. "We make it a total family night." The event is a bit of a homecoming because many of the siblings went to St. Alban's as well.
The long association of many families with the centre allows the staff to become a resource to parents. "They come to us for advice and we steer them to those resources we know about that can help." (See also "Family bags (and parent resource bags)").
Staff members create special occasions around specific parent needs. One such occasion came about because of a recent influx of Chinese immigrants to the area. "After a few years, many of the children in these families had experimented with North American food and had come to like it," Kelly explains. "This put the parents at a disadvantage because they didn't know how to prepare it."
So, staff began holding little impromptu classes where the parents came in and spent part of their day with the children and learned how to prepare the food, where to shop, and what ingredients to ask for. In some cases even the grandparents came in, adds Kelly. "They often couldn't speak any English so we had a multilayer thing going on where we would teach one generation and they would explain to the other."
"And it worked," adds Kelly. "We passed on the information and everyone got to feel part of the program."
Social occasions are not only good opportunities to bring people together, they are also valuable for educating children, adds Ouellette Lavoie. "Children learn a lot of social skills from special occasions. (See "A birthday is a big important day".)
In many cases, discussions of values are dominated by what Larkins calls "Big V values." But there are also "small v values." These could include simple matters of language use. Are adults called by their first name? How do we refer to the use of the bathroom? Again, accommodations must be made.
There are also some values that come with the education philosophy of the centre. "I feel very strongly that if a child requires attention, I should break away from a conversation with other adults to provide it."
The education philosophy is a very powerful connection with parents, adds Ouellette Lavoie. "I value education and I would rather show that to parents and children than talk about it. I show parents a vibrant and exciting program that is designed to appeal to and encourage children's curiosity. I show them a program that deals with different ways that children learn. And, most important of all, my colleagues and I want to show them we love this job and care about doing it as well as we can. Those are values parents find very easy to identify with."
Larkins agrees. "An enticing learning environment that stimulates children to learn is a value parents will appreciate." And if, despite everyone's best efforts, parents should disagree strongly with something going on at the centre?
"It has never happened," says Larkins. "But if it does we are prepared. We will respect their decision [to leave] and will try to be as helpful as we can in helping them find a daycare that suits them better."