All cultures share stories. They are passed from generation to generation, allowing the listener to imagine the characters, scenes and details. Storytelling doesn’t cost anything, or require books or toys, but it can often fuel creativity better than anything you buy from the store. It is flexible, and allows you to adapt a tale to the situation, interests, and developmental level of the children with whom you spend time. It’s these personal and cultural connections that make storytelling so valuable!
The Parent-Child Mother Goose Program has been spreading this message and practice for years. The program brings together parents and young children to enjoy songs, rhymes, and stories, and teaches parents how to foster attachment and enrich interactions with their infants and toddlers to stimulate brain development. Running in hundreds of communities across Canada and in other countries, the program embraces parents and caregivers from all cultures and age–and the stories they bring.
One advocate of their mission and values is Ivanka Gotcheva, Supervisor of the CNC program at Afghan Women’s Organization in Mississauga. With a background in literature and writing, she always loved storytelling. When she immigrated to Canada, Ivanka wanted to instill that love in her young daughter. Together, they attended a Parent-Child Mother Goose program. She enjoyed the experience so much, that in 2010 she trained to become a Mother Goose teacher. In 2017, Ivanka even joined the National Council.
“As I loved the program so much and wanted to be of help, I joined the National Council and participate in the meetings where we discuss many different issues. All the members are volunteers and it is amazing to see their involvement and effort to keep this wonderful program spreading into more communities,” relates Ivanka. “I also produce the quarterly newsletter, filled with stories, rhymes and news that I collect from programs around Canada, from Australia and Iran.”
How does her role with Parent-Child Mother Goose spillover into her work with CNC?
When she was a caregiver, she often found herself storytelling, rather than reading books.
“There is no eye contact when reading from a book,” says Ivanka. “When I tell stories, I can see how the children are responding by their expressions.”
She does note that it is hard to implement Parent-Child Mother Goose Program within regular CNC hours. Not only is it meant for smaller groups, but also it requires the involvement of the parents, who are in classes while their children are in care. So, Ivanka sets up her groups to take place outside of CNC operations.
When Ivanka runs a session, it is mainly the CNC parents who join. She tries to include children who are same age group–either infants or toddlers–so the content is more appropriate. Although fathers and even grandparents can take part in the Parent-Child Mother Goose programs, only moms can attend those held at Afghan Women’s Organization. It is a safe space where the women feel free to converse with one another.
During the first session, parents get to know each other and speak about themselves. They start with a few rhymes. The next week, they repeat the ones they learned and add a few new ones. It builds, week after week, into a full series. On the last day of the program, she distributes a booklet with all the rhymes and songs they learned.
“Because they are a group of newcomers, most of them with little English, I go over everything word by word to see if there is something they do not understand,” tells Ivanka. “As the program progresses, parents are always happy to share stories from their countries and from their personal lives. For example, they will tell the story of their wedding.”
Wonderful experiences have come out of these sessions. The program improves literacy, thanks to all the repetition. And, it is particularly beneficial for children with special needs, who learn from the social aspect of the program.
It is also a good opportunity for the moms at Afghan Women’s Organization to interact socially. For many new immigrants who have little or no family in the country, this is one of the few places where they can connect with others. In fact, one Parent-Child Mother Goose session prompted Ivanka to start a separate parenting class to discuss a multitude of topics, such as behaviour management, nutrition, potty-training, stress, child abuse, safety, and even the Health Education curriculum at schools.
But the main benefit, especially for newcomers, is the quality time spent connecting with their children. Most of the participants in Ivanka’s sessions are young moms who have multiple children. The Parent-Child Mother Goose Program shows them how to share stories and songs with their children–and most importantly– how to bond with them.
Ivanka recounts how two newcomer refugee moms (one from Eritrea and one from Syria) trained to be teachers with Parent-Child Mother Goose after some funding became available. One of them was very stressed by her children’s behaviour. After the training, she felt she knew how to better respond and work with them in a positive manner. The children felt their mother’s attention and, in turn, began behaving.
“The program has a calming influence on parents and children,” explains Ivanka. “And, it gives these young mothers confidence in their parenting. It is amazing to see how it helps everyone.”
After all, who doesn’t love a story with a happy ending?