Located in the Ottawa Valley, Petawawa, Ontario is home to Garrison Petawawa, one of Canada’s largest and busiest military bases.
The Petawawa Military Family Resource Centre (PMFRC) provides a wide-range of programs and services for the families of Canadian Armed Forces members, including several full and part-time child care programs. Our early childhood educators work hard to support military families who have unique circumstances and challenges they face each day.
I have been a part of the military community for 27 years – both as a military spouse and as an educator. In that time, I have seen the additional challenges that the children of military members face in developing a sense of wellbeing and engagement. This includes: frequent relocations, starting new child care programs and schools, deployments, separations from extended family members and the nervous anticipation of what is going to happen next.
Military parents also have unique concerns surrounding the question of who will take care of their children in a new community, and the guilt that comes with frequent separations and solo parenting.
For many military children, their early childhood program and their educators are the only constants in their young lives. For that reason – a strong connection between the child, family, educator and programs is essential.
As educators “we recognize and build on the strengths of families and the love they have for their children” (How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years). Often this means engaging the families as co-learners. Storypark has been an invaluable tool for our educator team in their efforts to involve families in the learning process.
Storypark allows deployed parents to participate actively in their child’s day-to-day life when they are a world away. Parents can entice their children with telephone conversations and FaceTime, or make a comment about one of the items their educator shared in their learning story. Parents can also share their own stories about their adventures on deployment, and our educators have incorporated those stories into the program.
We have also found that parents are spending more time in the programs when they are home, coming in early to spend time with their children and educators. This has truly strengthened our connection with the military community.
Storypark has also given extended family members – such as grandparents, aunts and uncles – an opportunity to stay engaged with children and their educators, even if they live far way. This link allows children to develop a sense of self, and to appreciate the important role they have within the family.
In addition to the information our educators are posting about life in the classroom, families are sharing their stories about weekend adventures and family visits. These stories can be incorporated into the child care programs, and has a profound impact on the children’s well-being and emotional development. Our educators report that expressive language skills and skills such as recalling events and sharing their own stories with peers has increased. This is evident with the documentation posted in the learning environments.
The educators at the PMFRC report that Storypark has also assisted them in their reflective practice by allowing them to review learning stories and documentation. This gives them more insight when they are rearranging their classrooms or planning invitations and provocations. It provides them the opportunity to share their knowledge of play-based learning and child development with families, and incorporates the family’s knowledge and uniqueness in the child’s everyday life in care.
Storypark has been instrumental in supporting our early learning programs, and in helping us build and maintain relationships with the children and families we support.
Susan Leclair is the Children’s Services Coordinator with the Petawawa Military Family Resource Centre. She is a Registered Early Childhood Educator with a background in High Scope Curriculum and holds credentials in Infant and Toddler Development with the American Montessori Society.