Meet Your New Family Education Director

There are two things Claire Phinney is drawn to professionally: education and advocacy. So, when the family education director position at Families First Children’s Museum opened late this summer, it intrigued her. “It’s the kind of work I feel really passionate about,” she says.  After applying and getting the job, it’s proving to be a great fit. Helping people doing one of the toughest jobs there is—parenting—is especially rewarding for Claire because she loves making life easier for others. “It’s something that makes me happy,” she says.

Claire, a Seattle-area native with deep roots in Montana comes from “a family of helpers.” With an undergraduate degree in early childhood education and development (and later a master’s degree in human development with an emphasis on conflict transformation and nonprofit leadership), she started her career as a preschool teacher. Although she loved the job, she realized she could have even greater reach outside of a school. “I wanted to have an impact on more than just a classroom of kids,” she says.

That led her to nonprofit work, where she was first employed as the program development coordinator/tribal liaison for Washington Association of CASA/GAL Programs and then as the educational advocacy regional coordinator/curriculum development specialist by Treehouse for Kids, which is an organization dedicated to helping foster children. After moving to Missoula, where she’s lived for more than 9 years, she also served as executive director of WORD (Women’s Opportunity & Resource Development). These positions have prepared her well to take our parenting programs to the next level.

Many people are surprised to learn that assisting parents is at the core of Families First’s mission.  Our children’s museum first opened in 2002, eight years after our parenting programs started. Claire will be spearheading efforts to enliven these programs, which to this point, have included group classes, individual consultations and parenting plan mediations. She hopes to grow these services, make them as relevant as possible to today’s families and work to better get the word about them out to the community.

That will start by looking for ways to reach families visiting the museum—and making services available in ways that are comfortable for them, even before they have to ask for help. But it will also include evaluating our overall services to make sure we’re offering parents the help they need in the manner they’d like to receive it. The goal is to make parents feel supported and empowered—whether they’re looking for ways to strengthen their relationship and give their kids the best possible start in life, or unsure of how to deal with a specific problem they’re having with a child at home. “Parents want to make things as wonderful as possible for their kids, but it’s hard to ask for help when a problem feels very personal,” states Claire.  “I would love to have parents walk in here and feel as comfortable as if they had just walked into their own backyard.”

As the mother of two young boys who are “her world,” and who help drive her passion for ensuring children receive the best possible care from those who provide for and teach them, she knows that empowering parents is critical. “I understand the challenges that come with raising kids,” she says.  “Everything you do matters. I, like any other parent, have challenges that feel insurmountable.” But, she adds, empowerment changes everything—how you feel, how you absorb information and how you interact with others. And that makes all the difference.

Currently, mediations and consultations are temporarily on hold as we restructure these programs and determine how to make sure they best meet community needs. We hope to announce plans for their future very soon.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about how our parenting services may be able to help you, call Claire at (406) 721-7690.

MCPS Parenting Classes Kick Off Sept. 20

Just because you no longer go to school doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to learn. In fact, some people might say that it’s when you become a parent that you have the most to learn.

Families First Children’s Museum is here to help.

Through a contract with Missoula County Public Schools, we educate moms and dads on topics that help make the tough job of parenting at least a little easier. Are you unsure of how to keep your kids safe on social media? We’ve got a class for that! Want some tips on encouraging your child without relying solely on praise and rewards? We can help! Do your kids worry more than most? Our Helping Kids Cope with Anxieties class may be just what you need to help put their minds—and yours—at ease!

Two-hour, discussion-based classes like these are held at schools throughout the MCPS system during the school year, in addition to the parenting classes we offer in-house. They begin at 6:15 pm, are open to everyone (your child does not have to attend the school where the class is held) and are FREE! Free childcare is available to participants as well.

Our instructors include professors, counselors and masters or PhD candidates who have expertise and personal experience in the subject matter, explains Colleen Biehl, our parenting programs coordinator, who helps get the classes set up. Topics are selected by individual schools from a list of 30 to 40 possibilities we provide each year.

“They’re based on parents’ needs,” says Colleen. “A lot of times, the classes enable people to look at their parenting style and decide they may benefit by implementing something new.”

Similar classes are offered in Polson and Pablo through our relationship with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. While the classes are really designed for parents, day care providers often benefit from them as well. We designate classes that are most applicable to them.

“Parents really like the classes,” says Colleen. “On the whole, talking with each other is probably one of their favorite parts. They like being with other parents and knowing that somebody has a problem like theirs.”

This year’s schedule begins Sept. 20, with a class designed to help children learn to resolve conflicts and become peacemakers. While the classes are free, they do require online pre-registration. If you have any questions, please feel free to call Colleen at (406) 721-7690.

View our upcoming schedule of classes.

Register online.

6 Tips to Start the School Year Right

School bells will soon be ringing. But before they do, mom and dad need to do some homework! Help get your child’s year off to a good start by following these tips:

1. Schedule a checkup. If your child hasn’t been to the doctor recently, this is a good time for a well-child visit. The doctor can check your child’s vision, hearing and overall health. If there are any concerns, this is the time to make a plan to address them with the school, particularly if your child is living with a long-term health issue.

  • More Help: Is your child on the autism spectrum? Attend our free parenting class “The Spectrum of Autism and Social Skills December 5 at Hawthorne Elementary School.

2. Adjust your child’s bedtime. Bedtimes often get later during the summer, but children need a good night’s sleep to be at their best. The National Sleep Foundation recommends setting your child’s bedtime incrementally a little earlier and getting your child up incrementally a little earlier each day in the two weeks before school starts. Be sure your kids will be getting the recommended number of hours of sleep for their age group by the time the first day of school arrives.

3. Review transportation safety rules. Whether your child will walk to school, ride a bike, take the bus or travel by car, it’s important to go over the safety rules for getting to and from school safety.

4. Create a “launch pad.” The AAP recommends establishing a regular place to keep backpacks, shoes, lunch boxes, mittens (though hopefully we won’t be needing them for a while!) and other items. It makes it easier to get your kids ready on hectic school mornings.

  • More Help: Attend our free parenting class “Smoother Mornings,” October 3 at Hawthorne Elementary School.

5. Help your child develop good study habits. Homework teaches kids responsibility and is often a key part of academic success. Setting up an environment conducive to studying and establishing rules for screen time and other distractions will get you started.

  • More Help: Attend “Helping with Homework,” a free parenting class, at Paxson Elementary School on October 25.

6. Talk often. It’s helpful for kids to know they have a place to turn to share their concerns, joys, disappointments and fears—about school and everything else going on in their lives. Let your kids know you’re there for them. And be sure to recognize and   acknowledge the good things they do.

  • More Help: Peer pressure can be one of the biggest challenges children face at school. Learn how to help them respond appropriately through our free parenting class “Helping Your Child Handle Peer Pressure,” November 29 at Paxson Elementary School.

Be watching your newsletter for details about the classes listed here and others in the weeks ahead!