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!