Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Early Childhood Family Education

If you've ever hung around me in the past year you've probably heard me toss around the acronym ECFE. You say, "ECF - what?" ECFE stands for Early Childhood Family Education. Today was our first day back after a month off for the holidays. The break made me realize how much I love this program so I'm going to take a little time to give it a plug.

ECFE is for children pre-K and under. There's even a class for newborns! ECFE is part of the public school system and is a program unique to the state of Minnesota. On their website, ECFE will probably say that the program is designed to foster early learning, help facilitate parent child interaction and build strong families. But let's call a spade, a spade here. ECFE gets William and me out of the house and into a social environment at least once a week for an hour and a half. Anyone who has stayed at home with a child for any length of time knows how important that is.

The biggest question I get about ECFE is what we do there. The class is structured so that the first half is all about interacting with your child. We sing songs and nursery rhymes, we do "make 'n' take" projects, we play with unique and different toys and we socialize with all the other parents and children.

During the second half of the class the parents and children separate. For some children this provides an opportunity to cope with separation anxiety. But most importantly it's an opportunity for the parents to discuss relevant topics in a distraction-free area. The discussion topics are picked by the group moderator who is typically someone who has a degree in some sort of family social science. Past topics have included mealtime, sleeping and language skills. Meanwhile, the children are all being well cared for in a separate room by instructors who have a preschool teaching license.

All the mothers in my group have bonded extremely well. Outside of class we have set up our own get-togethers. We have all the indications of being long-lasting companions because we all have one very important thing in common. Our kids, of course!

ECFE is not just for moms and it's not just for stay-at-home parents either. Plenty of dads have made appearances during class and they even offer a class just for dads. Each ECFE facility usually has plenty of class times to choose from to fit your schedule. Anything from early in the morning to after dinnertime. If you have other children who are at home or are not in school yet, ECFE even offers sibling care during your class time.

ECFE is the most reasonably priced mom and baby class I've found in my area. Their pay scale is based on your family's income but, because it is part of the public school system, they will never turn away a family who cannot afford the class.

For more information on ECFE you can go to ecfe.info or check out the Minnesota Department of Education web page. If I've already sold you, you can check out class offerings in your area by clicking here. And if you don't live in the lovely state of Minnesota start lobbying to your state congressmen now!

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