Analia, 3, sits with a Save the Children early childhood specialist at her home in California. Photo credit: Tamar Levine / Save the Children, Nov 2017.

The Gift of Learning Never Stops Giving

While many young U.S. children are spending this time of year gluing googly eyes to construction-paper snowflakes or listening to stories of sugar plum fairies and polar bear trails, far too many more children are surrounded by silence.

The silence of poverty is deafening. For the 15 million children living in poverty, playtime and early learning activities like reading, singing, arts & crafts and dress-up are not necessarily a way of life. Instead, their homes are silent, vacant of sing-songy tunes that teach children how to count and absent of artwork outlining basic shapes and symbols.

In 2006, Save the Children created Early Steps to School Success, which aims to ensure that all U.S. children, including those from remote, under-served areas, have the best chance for success in school and in life. Thanks to the generous support of our donors, we help the nation’s most vulnerable children become ready for kindergarten and beyond. Here, a story of 3-year-old Analia and how, thanks to you, a lifetime of change is possible.

Analia makes her way to her family’s small vegetable garden with her mother, Sandra, as an abundance of red jalapeños begin to blossom. They’re not yet ripe for picking, but the Central Valley California toddler is more than ready to tell her mom what color they are, and count the number that are growing.

At first glance, the garden visit may seem like a moment for Sandra to gauge whether they can include the jalapeños in a dish on the family’s upcoming dinner menu. It is, in part, but more importantly, it becomes an opportunity for Analia to learn more about the world around her – how the vegetables need the sun and rain to grow, how the peppers and the pepper plants smell and feel to the touch, and yes, how they will one day become a zesty part of one of the family’s future meals.

The afternoon lesson is one of many brain-building opportunities Sandra includes in Analia’s day-to-day life. While the mother of two does everyday activities around the house, like washing the dishes or preparing dinner, she has Analia name the types of dishes they’re putting away, or smell and touch the different ingredients that are coming together to make the evening meal.

“Sandra is really great about plugging Analia into her daily routines. She draws her in and keeps the language going,” said early childhood specialist Virginia, who has been visiting Sandra and family since before Analia was born. “The idea is to engage parents and children, and to give the parents the confidence that they have what it takes to be their child’s first teacher.”

Virginia conducts family home visits as part of Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success program, a rare family resource in Sandra and Analia’s rural community in central California, which struggles with limited services, poverty and unemployment.

Through such visits, parents like Sandra are equipped with the skills – and brain-building activities – to successfully support their children’s development. And as a child grows, the program offers book exchanges and parent-child groups, laying a foundation of language and literacy skills for the child, and opportunities to develop socially and emotionally with their peers.

With limited family in the area, the parent-child group has helped Sandra build further connections in the community, as well. It has also given her opportunities to strengthen her leadership skills, as she has started to plan and run some of the group’s activities.

“I’ve seen a big growth with Sandra,” said Virginia. “She’s a lot more confident in herself.”

Sandra and Analia’s community also has a small library with very limited hours, but Virginia, through the Early Steps book exchange program, helps them constantly update their home library, strengthening Analia’s early reading skills.

Book by book, from garden visit to the next daily learning opportunity, Analia will be well prepared for preschool and beyond.

 

You can help provide children in the U.S. with the educational tools they need to start learning at a young age. Your year-end gift in support of early childhood development will not only mean a child gets to unwrap a book, box of crayons or colorful puzzle this holiday season, it means they will have a chance at a brighter future.

To learn more about the work Save the Children has done to support the power of playtime, visit our website.

YOUR SUPPORT CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES IN NEED AROUND THE WORLD. MAKE A DONATION TODAY!

 

 

The Best Gift Parents Can Give

This holiday season, Guin and Nate are giving a very special present to their baby and Guin’s two older children, who they raise together: themselves.

 

It used to be that this young couple from rural western Washington state wouldn’t spend much time with the kids. They would hide in their room with the door locked, each of them says.

 

“We’d come out to give them their food or whatever, and then we’d just tell them to go play,” says Guin, 24. “We just shooed them on pretty much. That’s what my parents did to us, and that’s what hurt so bad. That’s what I never wanted to do, but that’s what we ended up doing anyways.”

 

Inside the locked room, Guin and Nate would do drugs. That was their escape, their means to cope. It was a strategy they both learned early in life.

 

“My parents were always gone, or when they were home, they were loaded,” says Guin. “So, we didn’t have bonding time, unless it was a loaded time. Like they were loaded, or just being crazy.”

 

Nate, 21, says his mom was also always gone or drinking, and that his older brother was the only father figure he ever knew. Together they raised their younger brother. Holidays were especially tough.

 

“There were presents under the tree and everything, but there weren’t any parents around. It was just my two brothers,” he says. “It was hard.”

 

As Guin and Nate struggled with their pasts and trying to scrape together a living and a future, they turned to drugs and then each other for comfort. But when the two older kids, 3 and 7, got taken away by the state temporarily last year, they knew something had to change.

 

Getting clean wasn’t easy, but in some ways the regimented recovery program made the path clearer than knowing how to become a good parent — something they desperately want. They say having Hollie in their lives is making a huge difference.

 

As a home visitor in Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success program, Hollie visits with pregnant mothers and families of babies and toddlers in economically depressed communities. The idea is to teach parents to be their child’s first teacher through reading, talking, singing and playing — and to serve as a resource and support for families struggling with many different challenges.

 

“If Hollie wasn’t here every week helping us with our daughter, I don’t think that we’d be improving so much with our child. She’s helped us be better parents,” says Guin. “I’m grateful for Hollie all the time. Books, man, she brings so many books. My kids are so grateful for the books.”

 

mother and child

 

Children growing up in poverty tend to fall developmentally behind other children long before they ever reach school. Then they struggle to catch up and many never do, making it very difficult for them to break the cycle of poverty. Yet, despite the many risk factors their families face, more than 80 percent of the children in Save the Children’s program go on to score at or above the national norm on pre-literacy tests.

 

Guin and Nate’s baby is only seven months old, but Guin can already see how she’s ahead of where her older kids were at that age. She started rolling over, sitting up, crawling and making her first word sounds much sooner. All the floor time, reading, talking and playing is really working, Guin says.

 

floor time

And, she says, the bond she’s building with her baby is so much stronger from the very beginning.

 

“Hollie has told us that face-to-face play is really important at this age, because they’re learning facial expressions and feelings and all that stuff,” Guin says. “Babies have the coolest facial expressions. They have happy in their eyes is what I say. Happy eyes. I love that.”

 

“I think I beat you in facial expressions,” Nate cuts in.

 

“Yes, he has,” says Guin. They laugh and then reflect on what lies ahead.

 

“Our goal is to make life better for them,” Guin says.

 

“Hopefully, we’re able to achieve that for them,” says Nate. “It’s hard, but we’re getting through it.”

 

“It’ll all be worth it in the end,” says Guin.

 

I can only imagine how difficult it must be for these young parents to turn their lives around, given the rough start in life they both had. It’s wonderful to see the pride Guin and Nate are taking in their parenting and to see their children get the loving attention they themselves missed.

 

This holiday season, I’m grateful for the amazing home visitors like Hollie, who are helping parents be the best they can be.

 

Together with Save the Children, JOHNSON’S® is bringing awareness to the importance of early childhood development (ECD) programs, so that every child can reach their full potential.

 

This holiday season, if you select Save the Children through the Johnson & Johnson Donate a Photo app and donate a baby photo using #SoMuchMore, JOHNSON’S® will triple its donation in support of early childhood education programs.

 

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post