Alliance for Childhood: Resources for educators and child advocates


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PBEL - Play Based Experiential Learning

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Simple advocacy strategies to win support for Play Based Experiential Learning

What comes to mind when you hear the term advocacy? If you are like many people the mention of the word brings to mind trips to Capitol Hill, visions of lobbying your state representative and the like. While these are certainly areas in which advocacy takes place, for most people advocacy starts closer to home.

Advocacy starts with a personal belief in an issue or cause. Commitment to this belief leads us to publicly speak out in favor of the cause through the backing, championing or defense of the issue. Many of you reading this toolkit are already advocates for young children in some way.

We are virtually advocating on behalf of something every day. If you have ever found yourself bestowing the virtues of early childhood education, providing families resources for activities they can engage their children in at home, or even responding to the latest social media post for or against play; you are already an advocate!

What is lacking in many cases is a cohesive advocacy effort in which supporters have an opportunity to speak with one voice. An individual’s commitment to a particular issue while commendable, does not yield the same power as when it is joined with other supporters of the cause. To truly be effective as advocates our goal needs to be amplification of a singular message.

Identify your Audience

As you take a deeper dive in to your advocacy work, take time to consider the audience you would like to address. You may be focusing your work on families, other educators, policy makers, or perhaps the local business community. Each group will require it’s own messaging strategy that includes information that is relevant to them. Take a moment to reflect on why your message is important to each group and how it directly impacts their lives now and in the future. As an example, families might be interested in understanding how play helps their children develop, and also how the skills they develop today support lifelong success.

The following questions can be used as a starting point for identifying your audience:

  • Who are the key stakeholders you would like to get involved?
  • What do they already know about the topic?
  • What additional information should they know?
  • What is your end goal?
  • What role do the stakeholders play in helping you reach your goal?
  • How is this topic relevant to your stakeholders today? In the future?

Develop Your Pitch

One of the most critical functions of an advocate is to persuade others to adopt your way of thinking. Research in the field of persuasion has led to the common practice of 3 strategies used to win over your audience; ethos, logos, and pathos.

Ethos - Is our public persona or reputation; whether the speaker/advocate is well known to the audience, credentialed in the field, or has publically established successes in a particular topic

Logos - Is our ability to persuade through the use of logical arguments, facts and data

Pathos - Is persuasion through emotional appeals and/or personal connections, often through storytelling, images, or videos

Once you have identified your stakeholder audience, learn about them ahead of time as this will help you determine how to present the information; whether you should use Ethos, Logos, Pathos, or a combination in your pitch.

Developing your pitch has as much to do with how you are attempting to persuade your audience as it does with being able to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question. You have presented your audience with a solid argument, explained the issue at hand, and targeted your message in a way that they are best able to receive it, but have you answered the fundamental questions of “Why should I care?” or “How does it impact my life?”.

Since the cause is something YOU are passionate about, (and not them), your job is to help them understand why this is relevant to their life.

Call to Action

You have the attention of your audience, and they can see the value in supporting your cause, but now what? As your pitch evolves you will want to flesh out your call to action. In other words, what is it that you are asking supporters to do? Calls to action can be as simple as making a donation or signing a petition. They can also be more involved and time consuming, such as when supporters are asked to speak at a School Board Meeting or assist with the development of an advocacy campaign.

Your calls to action should be constructed to meet people were they are. Individuals may support your cause, but have limited time in which they can act on behalf of that cause, or they may have more experience in a particular area and are willing to help shape your efforts. As supporters become more committed to the issue, they can participate in higher level engagement activities.

Tip: All calls to action must be something they can DO! Avoid vague asks!

Low level engagement

  • Share on Social Media
  • Sign a Petition
  • Distribute informational brochures/leaflets
  • Donate at a small level

Mid-level Engagement

  • Write and submit an op ed
  • Letter to public official
  • Sharing resources on their network
  • Public speaking
  • Donate at a higher level

High Level

  • Development of a campaign
  • Mentoring others in becoming advocates
  • Establish an action committee
  • Donate and introduce to other funders

The ideas included here are just a few examples of how you can engage your supporters; build upon this list and start brainstorming the actions that would make a difference in your efforts. Be sure to include opportunities for people to participate in their own way.

Tip: While it might be tempting to make multiple asks when you encounter a new supporter, it can be overwhelming. Making one clear ask will yield higher levels of participation.

Building a Community of Advocates

At this point you have identified who your audience is, how you will develop and present your pitch, and what specifically you will ask them to do through your “Call to Action”, so what’s next?

If you haven’t already begun to connect individual advocates to one another, this is a key strategy that can create a groundswell of support. By providing a forum for advocates to connect you are fostering a supportive environment in which others can find new ideas, resources, tools, and others who are also working toward similar change. These communities, for example can be built at the local level through in person meetings and/or on a much larger scale through the use of the internet and social media. How you approach building your community should reflect your own goals and needs of your target audience.


Reflections from the Field

Over the years, my experience in advocacy has included a variety of causes: the importance of play in children’s lives, the value of using the environment as a learning context, a broad range of environmental and education issues, women’s issues and more. And although part of my strategy includes being well-versed in the topic at hand, other key aspects of effective advocacy have served as common threads, regardless of the issue. Primarily, a vital principle is that listening and hearing are just as – if not more – important than the spiel you’ve prepared. While having a grasp on a variety of tried-and-true advocacy tactics is important, they will generally fall flat if you haven’t first paid attention to the needs, interests, concerns, objectives or fears of the individual you are approaching. Consider that, if you desire a decision-maker to choose a path forward that is aligned with what you think is best, isn’t it logical that – in the long run – they... Read More