Judith Sikora, Senior Early Childhood Education Advisor, FHI 360
What is Las Manos de Apá?
Las Manos de Apá was a program FHI 360’s early childhood experts created and piloted with a grant from the Office of Head Start. We created a curriculum and materials that childcare workers and administrators in Head Start and Early Head Start programs could use to help the Latino fathers in their schools improve their parenting skills and better understand the early literacy needs of their children. The materials were used in Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs in Michigan and New York.
Why did this program target fathers specifically?
We wanted to reach out to fathers because research shows that fathers are generally less involved in the Early Head Start and Head Start programs than other family members. In the migrant and seasonal programs, a lot of the dads are farm workers, and many are illiterate. We found that many dads who participated in Las Manos de Apa had very negative memories of their school experiences and didn’t understand the different stages of child development or how to engage with their children in early learning activities.
It was very important to us that we engaged the fathers where they felt most comfortable. Many of the fathers fondly remembered the oral storytelling traditions in their culture, and many were exposed to these traditions in their early childhood years. So we used oral storytelling in the lessons to gain the fathers’ trust, build their confidence and engage with them in a way that would be comfortable and familiar. We were simultaneously building their parenting skills and teaching them how to relate to a three- or four-year-old child.
What kinds of activities did the fathers do in the program?
In one activity, the fathers learned how to make a book with their children. Even if the father could not read, he could encourage his child to draw pictures and teach his child to look at the book from the left to the right. Another activity the fathers did together was make bookshelves for their children. Some of the dads went all out and engraved their children’s names in the bookcases or added intricate details. That was a culminating activity for them. We also had speakers come to the fathers’ groups to talk about different issues. In another activity, the fathers gave presentations to the mothers.
There was an opportunity over the three-year period for the program to have different mix of families. There were always new families added to the mix. Migrant and seasonal programs open and close according to the growing season of the area. But we tried to engage them all in social activities as well as the lessons. Things like soccer games and cookouts fostered the community the participants built.
What did the fathers see as some of the outcomes of their participation in the program?
Many fathers told us that initially they weren’t sure how to engage with their children, and they lacked confidence about how to interact with their young children. They said that because of the skills they learned in the program, they now talk with their children more and participate in more activities with their pre-schoolers. Overall, they said that they are spending much more quality time with their families. Many of them didn’t have father figures in their households growing up, so they didn’t have role models to follow. Now, they want to be role models for their children. They told us that this project gave them a lot of the tools to do that.
For more information about the education work FHI 360 does in the United States visit our website.