Conversations with Families to Prepare for Early Childhood Programming

This handbook builds on the experience of a research project in Nepal – a qualitative investigation into child rearing practices and beliefs in four rural communities which took place in 1999 and which has been documented in a report entitled Bringing up Children in a Changing World. This study was undertaken as part of an effort to build effective and relevant early childhood programming in Nepal.2 Those involved in the project were convinced, like many others around the world, that successful ECD programming cannot be based simply on “universal” principles of child development; rather, it should build on local strengths and on an understanding of people’s hopes and expectations for their children, as well as their frustrations and concerns. Through extended observation, interviews and group discussion, the researchers looked at how families deal with their children on a daily basis – how they work to ensure that children grow up healthy and protected from harm, how they support their developing identities and their opportunities for learning; how they encourage them to get along with other people and to contribute to their families and communities. They discussed people’s beliefs and values, their long term goals, their different expectations for sons and daughters, and the effects for socialization and development. Because families and children do not exist in a vacuum, the study also looked at the larger contexts of their lives – at social and economic realities, gender and caste issues, local culture and the process of change. The point of the research, however, was not only to collect information on child rearing in these four villages. Perhaps more important, we hoped to develop an effective participatory process that could be more widely used for initiating discussion with parents and community members. This effort owed a lot to a family of participatory research approaches, including PRA (participatory rural or rapid appraisal), PAR (participatory action research), PLA (participatory learning and action). These approaches to research vary in their history and emphasis, but share a basic philosophy. All support the involvement of beneficiaries, particularly the poor, in the collection and analysis of information about their own lives, and in the planning and eval- uation of interventions that affect them. This family of approaches has been responsible for the development of a number of visual tools that can facilitate discussion, information collection and analysis with groups of people who find it helpful to deal with concepts in a concrete visual way. Our efforts drew on both the philosophy and the tools, adapting them to the investigation of child rearing beliefs and practices.

Although PRA and its relatives have challenged research orthodoxy and have stressed flexible and creative ways of accessing insider knowledge and preferences, there is a tendency for the approach to become at times iden- tified with the tools, and for the tools, in the hands of less experienced prac- titioners, to become ends in themselves rather than the very adaptable aids to discussion that they were intended to be. Because of this tendency, we have avoided calling our modified methods PRA tools, and refer to them instead simply as visual tools. This is not an attempt to downplay our debt to PRA – but rather, to avoid the risk of emphasizing the tools at the expense of the intent. The Nepal project was a chance to experiment and to learn – not only about research methods and tools, but also about project management, researcher training, practical difficulties and the many complexities of conducting a genuine dialogue with communities. This handbook is a product of that learning. It draws on our successes and also on our mistakes, pointing out where potential challenges lie, and how best to respond to them. Different settings clearly present different opportunities and challenges. There is no way we can have anticipated everything here. Every attempt to conduct a similar investigation will be an occasion for learning in its own right. We encourage you to share your experience with us, to describe unforeseen problems and new solutions, and to make it possible to continue refining these tools and guidelines.

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Title:  Conversations with Families to Prepare for Early Childhood Programming

Author(s): Sheridan Bartlett

Publication Date: 2001

Publisher: Save the Children Norway, US and UK, Nepal and UNICEF

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