In the past, Zeno has relied heavily upon feedback from teachers and home visitors, which has been valuable in the initial development of our MathWays for Early Learning program. However, we recognized that the voice of the family was missing as an influencer of how we adapt and improve this and other Zeno programs.

In late 2016, we received a small grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to work with Purple Group, a Chicago-based marketing firm, to develop a Family Discussion Group model. We hosted our first set of six Family Discussion Groups in June with Cantonese-speaking Chinese families, Spanish-speaking Latino families, and English-speaking African American communities, working with facilitators from each of these communities to lead the groups. The discussions focused on parents’ perceptions about when, where, and how their children should learn math, as well as their experiences with math growing up.

While the primary goal of this pilot was for Zeno to learn how to facilitate Family Discussion Groups and establish a model for future use, we did collect some valuable initial feedback from the families who participated. A few highlights include:

  • Math is important, but…While all participants across all groups agreed that math was important, they had difficulties articulating how to transform that importance into actionable, realistic activities that can be consistently done at home. Participants shared many ideas on how to integrate math into their everyday lives (outside of setting out time specifically for math), and it seems worth exploring how to facilitate this type of sharing as a part of our work in the future. Overall, families had ideas, but didn’t all express confidence in their ability to affect their child’s math skills and confidence.
  • Understanding parents’ perception of what children are capable of learning at what age is critical to parent-buy in. The three groups had slightly different perspectives as to when it was a good time to expose/teach children the pre-k math concepts discussed. This may have been due to the use of the word “expose” and the interpretation of the word, or it may imply different cultural norms and beliefs as to children capabilities at the various ages. Further exploration, with a wider range of cultural/linguistic groups, is needed.
  • The source matters for each ethnic group. For each of the diverse groups the source of the ‘games or educational materials’ played a key role. For the Chinese group, if the source was the teacher or the school, the parents lost authority because they did not know how math was done in the U.S., so they essentially left it to the children. For the Latino group, if it came from the school or a trusted authority, then it was something to focus on, learn and help their children.  For the African American group, there was a general undertone of questioning the system and traditional educational authorities. They seem to lean more on creating connections within their own communities, relying more on trusted sources from within the community.

We encourage you to read the full report here, and look forward to sharing how insights gained from this and future Family Discussion Groups are incorporated into Zeno’s programming! 

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