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Community Report: Exploring the Future of Parenting Education

posted by Diane McGregor

For the past two years you have been hearing about (and engaging with us) in our design project, Exploring the Future of Parenting Education. The wait is over! Our final community report on the project is now available.

Read the Full Report

Early in 2015, with the support of the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation, we set out to transform the way that we do parenting education. We knew that to do this in a truly meaningful way, we needed to be creative and to think outside the traditional “program evaluation” box. To this end, we partnered with Overlap, a local design company, who guided us through the procedures and methods of design thinking. The report describes the methods we employed to engage with parents and caring adults in Waterloo Region, asking them to share with us how they learn their parenting skills and knowledge. It also summarizes what we learned, the design ideas—prototypes—that emerged from our learning and our next steps. 

Over an eight-month period, we connected with more than 650 parents and caring adults and asked them to talk about how they learn about parenting and caring for the children in their lives. We used a range of engagement activities and asked our question in a variety of ways. We analyzed the thousands of thoughts, ideas and stories that were shared with us, extracting common themes and experiences. What seemed like a simple question led us into the complex and intense world of parenting and guided us in understanding not only how parents learn but why they strive to be the best parent they can. We heard that learning is present in almost all aspects of parenting. From the unexpected moments of insight to the intentional act of reaching out for support or guidance, parenting skills and knowledge are continually changing and growing.  We saw that in order to fully understand how that learning happens, it was important to understand the nature of the parenting experience itself—how both the small and the big moments shape who we are as a parent and motivate us to learn and grow. Three major themes emerged from our analysis of the “parenting experience”, each with subthemes, detailed in this report. Our conceptualization of the parenting experience then formed the foundation for the key learnings we brought forward to the design stage of the project.

Three main themes describing the parenting experience were identified:

Being the Parent I Am: we heard about the array of moment-to-moment experiences that define our sense of “the parent I am”. We heard about experiences of delight and happiness, connection, pride, and feelings of confidence and competence. We also heard about experiences of distress and frustration, embarrassment, disappointment and feelings of incompetence, shame and regret. We saw the delicate balance that exists between the delight and distress of parenting and heard how the scales can tip from one to the other in an instant.

Becoming the Parent I Am: we heard about the multiple influences and experiences that have shaped us into the parents we are. People described being influenced by those around them—family, friends, neighbours, spouses, co-workers, medical practitioners, support workers, counsellors—by their own personal characteristics and upbringing, as well as by their children. We frequently received the answer “my child” to the question, “who do you learn from?”

Learning and Growing as a Parent: this theme informed our understanding of the learning itself. We heard why learning matters and the kind of experiences parents are seeking from their sources of learning. Two central themes emerged here, one was that parents learn first and foremost through connection with others, the second was that they learn through exploration and observation.  We also heard that the learning process is often informal, occurring in any location and at any moment, it is incidental, occurring unexpectedly or by accident, and that these informal, incidental moments are often so inspiring they lead to significant insights and behavioural changes. 

Our key learnings then formed the foundation for our next stages of the project in which we designed and tested a number of “prototypes”. Design thinking methodology is a continual process of “ideating”, seeking feedback, prototyping, and testing and then doing it all over again. We returned to our key stakeholders for their ideas and solutions; we sought and incorporated feedback as we tested then moved into our next iteration of the concept. At each stage, we remained grounded in our learning and when in doubt, we went back to our data, just to remind ourselves what parents and others told us of their learning experiences.

Over 30 different ideas eventually evolved into three prototypes that will be brought forward for implementation in 2017.

At the beginning of this project, we set out to transform the way that we offer parenting education to the citizens of Waterloo Region. Exploring the Future of Parenting Education was our first step—a rather giant first step—into the learning experiences of parents and caring adults. We are now on the threshold of our second step as we get ready to launch a new approach to parenting education, Parenting Now: Today. Tomorrow. Together. This model is the culmination of our design process, bringing together three prototypes into a comprehensive approach to parenting education. We believe it captures what we heard from the parents and many others that we spoke with: that parenting is about connecting with the moments of today, building for tomorrow and finding our way together—with our children, family, friends and each other. Our vision is for a system of parenting education that provides a seamless experience for parents as they are seeking information, learning, supports, and relationships.

The three prototypes we are bringing forward from our design process are not intended as standalone ideas; rather, they are interrelated activities for enhancing the skills and knowledge of the parents of Waterloo Region. The prototypes, discussed in detail in the report, form the foundation and key activities of our model. As we move into implementation of our new approach to parenting education, we are confident that our next steps are firmly grounded in the stories and learning experiences shared with us throughout this project. At the same time, we know there is more learning to come.

Please connect with us to share your feedback, insights or stories. We can be reached at: