By Clay Schuldt
It is never too early to introduce education into a child’s life. Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) is a resource available for parents with pre-kindergarten age children right here in Caledonia and at outreach sites in the county.
“It’s an opportunity for parents to come with their child at an early age to begin to help their child develop a love of learning,” Community Education Director Nancy Runningen, said. “We help them learn the tools needed to be successful parents.”
The idea is that families provide a child’s first learning environment and parents are the most important teachers. The goal of the program is to enhance the ability of families to provide the best learning and growth environment for their kids.
“The more you do at an early age the more successful a child will be,” Runningen said.
ECFE is not new to the Caledonia area and has been a staple of the Caledonia’s education system since the early 1980s. ECFE is offered through Minnesota public school districts and is unique to the state.
While other states have similar programs, ECFE was one of the original innovators. “The program in Minnesota has served as a model for other states,” Runningen said. “I think that in many ways the State of Minnesota has set the standard for early childhood education and early childhood family education.”
Teacher Anna Frauenkron said a typical ECFE class begins with kids and their parents taking part in activities that include art, music and playtime usually centered on a theme.
The theme for last week was “On the Farm.” Children were able to learn about various farm animals. Later in the class, while children remain with early childhood staff, parents take part in separate discussions with a facilitator that focuses on parenting issues.
Teacher’s assistant Keri Eglinton became involved with EFCE the previous year as a parent and is now serving as a member of the programs Advisory Council.
“I was a stay-at-home mom and I wanted some way to meet other parents that were stay at home or who had children same age as mine.”
Several other families take advantage of the program as a way of meeting other parents, but also as a way of allowing their children to socialize with one another in a school environment.
In addition to the parent and children social dynamic, adult classes are available to assist parents with the challenges of raising children; covering subjects like, discipline, behaviors, sleeping and general health. “I really enjoyed the EFCE classes,” Eglinton said, “because it helped developed relationships in the community and find different programs and activities that I could do at home with my child.”
Special ECFE programs are offered throughout the school year. Upcoming events include pumpkin decorating on Monday, Oct. 29. The 25 Annual Family Fair will be held on Nov. 10 and Family Fun Night is scheduled for Nov. 19.
Early childhood screening is also part of the ECFE program. The early screenings help identify potential health or developmental problems in young children. Early childhood screening is required for entrance in Minnesota public schools. Screenings are offered in the fall and spring. Fall screening dates are Nov. 1 and 2. Spring screening dates are March 7 and 8.
Runningen said parents wishing to enroll children in the program may do so at any time during the year.
Classes are located in the Caledonia Elementary School and meet Thursday nights from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and Friday mornings from 9:30 to 11 a.m. in the ECFE room.
Classes will also meet in Brownsville and Eitzen one Monday a month. For those unable to attend classes, appointments can be made to bring the classes to you, whether at home or at daycare.
While class fees do exist, Runningen explained that no one will be turned away for their inability to pay, saying, “This class is for everyone.”
Upcoming Early Childhood Family Education events
Oct. 29: Pumpkin decorating
Nov. 10: 25th Annual Family Fair
Nov. 19: Family Fun Night
Classes: Thursday evenings from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and Friday mornings from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at Caledonia Elementary School.