Enhancing Family Engagement: A Collaborative Model using Learning Stories to Strengthen Relationships between Teachers, Parents/Guardians, and Infants and Toddlers

Project Category: Amplifying the Impact of Community Early Care Providers 

Annie White, Ed.D.
Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Studies
California State University, Channel Islands

Introduction: Positive relationships are critical to foster healthy development of infants and toddlers.  Yet, young children who are homeless may be in jeopardy of not experiencing of trusting, caring relationships with adults. It is essential to examine possible ways to build secure relationships with low-income, under represented, children birth to three, who are homeless, living in transitional housing, or at risk for stable housing. Therefore, this study examined the influence of Learning Stories, a narrative storytelling approach to document children’s learning, and its impact on relationships of infants and toddlers at Santa Barbara, California, Transition House and Storyteller Children’s Center. These two child development centers serve vulnerable infants and toddlers and families who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. There is a need to examine parent-child relationships to determine if children felt understood, accepted, and loved through teachers and parents sharing of Learning Stories. The examination of relationships to support children’s development of security and self-worth as a means to lessen the cycle of maltreatment and trauma experienced from stressors caused by homelessness is necessary and must be considered.

This research project focuses on supporting parent/guardian and infant/toddler relationships and thus, impacting infant mental health (Lieberman, Padrón, Van Horn, & Harris, 2005). I used Lieberman et al., (2005) theoretical framework of “Ghosts and Angels in the Nursery” to examine in what ways Learning Stories influence relationships. The research question under investigation for this qualitative study was the following, “In what ways does Learning Stories influence relationships?”

Methods: Participants were recruited from Storyteller Children’s Center and Transition House center infant and toddler classrooms. Storyteller serves children two to five years of age. Only the toddler teachers were included in this study. Three toddler teachers and one administrator was recruited for this study. At Transition House, six infant and toddler teachers and two administrators were recruited. All participants in the study were women and predominantly Latino and Caucasian. Procedures consist of transcripts from five group interviews.  The interviews were conducted May-June, 2016 ranging from thirty to 45 minutes each for a total of approximately one hundred and seventy-five minutes of audio recordings. Interviews followed a prepared, semi-structured protocol. Transcription totaled over 76 pages of double-spaced text.  Audio recorded group interviews were transcribed by a professional transcription service agency. Transcriptions were carefully reviewed to understand and interpret the data.  Upon completion of all transcriptions, detailed themes emerged, which later formed the basis for the coding system.

Instrument used to code the group interviews was MAXQDA software. The MAXQDA is a PC-based program that helped to systematically evaluate, interpret, and code the transcripts. Open axial coding was utilized and multiple levels of codes were outlined into lists and sub-codes were developed based on the study research question, theoretical framework, and themes that had emerged during the transcription analysis.

Results: This research study findings show relationships were influenced and strengthened from Learning Stories in the following areas: a) educators focus on the development of individual children; b) addresses the child directly and viewed as an important element that parents responded to positively; c) focuses on the positive attributes of the child rather than deficits; d) opens communication between educators and parents; e) helps teachers show parents they care about children. f) shows the care parents provide for children and; g) opportunity for teacher deeper reflection. Research findings reveal Learning Stories help adults focus more closely on infant and toddler learning and development. Learning stories provides opportunity to influence positive relationships between parent-child, teacher-parent, and teacher- child.

Discussion: Limitations of the study include overgeneralization. The study cannot be generalized to all populations of homeless children in child care centers shelters. The availability of time for parents to collaborate with teachers can differs. The small sample size was from a coastal community located in southern California and cannot be generalized to all programs. Future research needs to include a larger sample size of infant and toddler development programs who are from varying geographic regions.  A larger population may address issues of generalizability.

Future research is currently underway including, data analysis of Learning Stories research from New Zealand and Northern California. Continued research with Storyteller Children’s Center and Transition House is warranted. Primarily, examination using technology to develop Learning Stories to further support relationships with diverse families who speak languages other than English.

Annie White, Ed.D.
Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Studies, School of Education
CSU Channel Islands
One University Drive
Camarillo, CA 93012


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