Promoting Brain Building Moments™ Within Community Traditions and Cultural Practices

Written by Amee Barlet, Save the Children Washington Deputy Director
and Rochel White, Early Steps to School Success Early Childhood Coordinator

Early Childhood Coordinator Rochel White sings a traditional Twulshootseed butterfly song during a home visit while a mother engages her child in back-and-forth interactions through drumming.

Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success (Early Steps) program and Vroom® celebrate parents and caregivers as their child’s first and most important teachers. Vroom, an early learning initiative from the Bezos Family Foundation, empowers parents and caregivers to play a proactive role in their child’s brain development by turning everyday moments into Brain Building Moments®.  

Save the Children has integrated Vroom’s science-based tools and tips into our early learning programs to advance educational outcomes in some of America’s most isolated and low-resourced communities. By celebrating a community’s strengths, cultural traditions and values – Save the Children is able to foster community-wide commitment to early learning while bringing Vroom’s Brain Building Moments™ to cultural celebrations and traditional practices.

In Washington State, we partner with the Quinault Indian Nation to promote healthy childhood development. Rochel White has served as an Early Steps Early Childhood Coordinator since 2017 and has two decades of experience in early learning. She speaks English and Twulshootseed (the language of the Puyallup Tribe and Southern dialect of the greater Lushootseed language) and takes Quinault language classes.

Taholah, where the Quinault people have lived for time immemorial, is the main village of the Quinault Indian Nation. It is an isolated community – with one road in and out – set on the coast at the mouth of the Quinault River. Services are difficult to access, the nearest library is over an hour away, and while there is a Tribal Health Clinic on the reservation, many families must travel for at least an hour for primary care and speciality and support services. There is also a dearth of pediatricians and reproductive health practitioners in the county.

Fish runs through the Quinault River have been low lately due to climate change, hurting families that rely on them for income and subsistence. To make early learning more accessible to more families, Rochel implements Early Steps around the working hours of those involved in the hunting fishing, and shellfish industries, which follow schedules set by the tides. This has led to an increase in enrollment and engagement with the program and the visits. 

Over the past year, Rochel has hosted a series of Vroom events for families with young children throughout the community. At each event, she has shared brain development information and has used the five Brain Building Basics™ to support culturally centred parent child interactions.

At one event, Rochel hosted a button blanket activity. Button blankets are traditionally worn by northwest coastal tribes. The blankets typically feature a family crest and abalone buttons. “The buttons signify your wealth – how much you have to give away and how large your family is, as those were traditional Native American determinants of prosperity,” Rochel explained. Rochel handed out felt squares, traditional shapes and buttons. Parents were encouraged to talk about their families, count buttons in English and Quinault, make patterns and talk about shapes, textures and colors.

Rochel shared, “The buttons had Velcro on the back so families could rearrange their designs. We used felt pieces for the little ones and buttons for children ages 3-5. I showed how it was an opportunity to count with little ones and how families have always used cultural practices to teach their children. I posted the 5 Brain Building Basics and discussed with families how they were able to include these when they are counting, asking their little ones where they want to place their buttons or what crest they wanted, and talking about what button blankets are. Each family took home their button blanket and a copy of the Brain Building Basics sheet. I suggested families hang their blankets up or use them with a baby doll.”

Rochel noted, “One grandparent sat down and counted in Quinault with her grandchildren while they chose their buttons. I was so happy to hear this and told her how much brain building she is supporting by doing that with them. She remarked ‘I don’t often read to them anymore, on account of my bad eyes, but I tell them stories every day.’  We chatted about how much eye contact and facial expressions are utilized in storytelling.”

After the activity, Rochel posted information about the event on Facebook and a parent commented, “I loved the craft! I can’t wait until it’s all dry and the kids can redecorate it over and over.”

The vast majority of the 100 students at Taholah School struggle to meet grade level standards in Math and English Language Arts. The school superintendent reached out to Rochel to plan and implement early childhood activities to build family/school connections and help children feel more comfortable the day they start kindergarten.

During a recent family math night, Rochel planned a shape sorting and pattern activity that incorporated formline – a feature of the indigenous art of the region. One participating family included Leo[1], who was almost 3, his parents and his older sister, a kindergartener. Both parents had consistently read to their son, but now talk to him more and make a point of keeping eye contact, as Rochel had encouraged them to do. “Leo’s mom was one of the first parents to really get involved in the Vroom activities. She consistently asks for more ideas each week and lets me know how Leo liked them, and if he needed more support,” said Rochel. “I see that dad, as well as mom, is engaged in asking questions about growth and development as well as wanting to learn more activities to help support Leo,” says Rochel.

Rochel uses the Early Steps Plan and Play curriculum, elements from the Positive Indian Parenting curriculum and her own creative ideas to enrich her home visits and parent child groups with a cultural focus. Rochel has taught parents to use heirloom cradleboards (traditional padded frames for swaddling babies) to soothe their infants. She has shown parents how drumming and singing songs can be a way to bond and develop language, math and listening skills.

“Rochel has helped us learn how to teach our children in so many ways. When we started the program my husband and I had disagreed on a lot of parenting and learning stuff, but I have become more confident teaching them now,” shared an Early Steps mom.

During the current pandemic, Rochel continues to engage and support the Taholah community in fostering healthy childhood development. Rochel integrated early learning resources and critical hygiene materials into the school’s distribution efforts. She held a book fair while families were picking up laptops for their school-age children. Families arrived at staggered times to collect their laptops and choose from a large selection of recently donated children’s books. The event reached over 50 families, and about 170 children received books. Additionally, Rochel created early learning Boredom Buster resource kits and brought them to families who were staying safe at home.

The connections that Rochel has forged are proof of the impact she has made in the community and her dedication to raising the quality of all programs serving Quinault children. She has developed strong relationships with families as well as other agencies serving them. Rochel is frequently asked to plan an activity, drum, sing or be a storyteller for events at the school and at Early Head Start and Head Start programs.

The Director of Taholah’s Head Start program asked Rochel to join their policy council, providing her with another opportunity to share her expertise on early childhood and her deep knowledge of incorporating culture into routines, curriculum and interactions. Through the Early Steps Book Bag Exchange program, community read-alouds among other endeavors, she is able to mentor other professionals and model best practice. Amee Barlet, Save the Children’s Deputy Director for Washington shares, “I am inspired by Rochel’s approach to relationships, culture and mentoring. I believe Rochel is an early childhood leader creating high quality culturally appropriate learning opportunities for children in the Taholah community. She is an advocate for all children.”


[1] Child’s name has been changed.

Leveraging Brain Science and Our Program Legacy to Support Early Child Development during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Educators, service providers and families are grappling to find the best ways to support early learning and healthy development while the world stays safer at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Save the Children has been actively leveraging our expertise as a leader in early education to support children and families across America through our SAVEWITHSTORIES campaign and our public COVID-19 Resource Page. We know that even while schools are closed, stores are empty, and many are struggling to pay bills, children’s brains are continuing to grow – with more than 1 million new neural connections forming every second, laying the foundation for all future learning, behavior and health. It is now as important as ever to help caregivers to provide young children with love, stability and learning opportunities in the face of uncertainty and change.

With extensive experience in helping rural communities prepare children for success in school and life, we are particularly mindful of the impact of the pandemic on children and families in geographically isolated and low-resourced communities. Here, infant mortality rates are higher than average and one in five children is growing up in poverty. These remote pockets are struggling with unemployment, violence, addiction and poor access to essential educational and healthcare resources – and the effects of the pandemic are intensifying these problems. Although rural communities face many of the same challenges as urban ones, they often don’t receive the same attention.

With a strong history of inspiring breakthroughs in rural communities across the United States, we are committed to focussing national attention on the needs of America’s forgotten communities, while bringing cutting-edge science and evidence-based programs directly to children and families there. Working with national and local partners, we employ a collective impact approach and build local capacity to deliver high quality early childhood education programs to those who need them the most. Vroom®, a Bezos Family Foundation innovation, is a critical resource in our work to advance early learning in rural communities. Vroom translates research on early brain development into meaningful, actionable activities for families to do with their young children. As families spend more time together at home than ever, Vroom’s science-based tips and tools inspire families to turn their shared, everyday moments into Brain Building Moments™. We have integrated Vroom into multiple facets of our pandemic response.

During this extraordinary time, we demonstrate our organizational commitment to collaboration, creativity, integrity, accountability and ambition daily in home offices, school cafeterias, warehouses, and front porches around the country to ensure that rural families have the resources and supports they need to foster healthy childhood development. While the pandemic has spurred us to innovate more rapidly, increase our use of technology, and accelerate our partnerships, we’ve also returned to our organizational roots: We’re leveraging our history of meeting the needs of children in rural communities, which began in the United States during the Great Depression.  

In 1932, Save the Children got its start in America serving children and families in Harlan County, Kentucky – the heart of coal country – by providing hot meals to children in coal camps. The impact was immediate. Undernourished children were better fed, school attendance increased and grades improved. This effort became the model for the federal hot lunch program. A decade later, children in more than 70,000 schools across the United States were served publically funded hot lunches. Now, almost 90 years on, in response to COVID-19 our local early childhood staff are working tirelessly to address food insecurity by supporting school meal preparation and distribution during school closures. In some communities, our staff facilitate daily “grab-and-go” meal pickups in school parking lots, elsewhere they ride school busses for hours to reach the most remote corners of their districts – all to ensure that no child goes to bed hungry while schools are closed. We have always recognized the importance of health and nutrition to children’s overall development and learning.

We’re also committed to providing educational and mental health supports along with our meal distribution activities. In collaboration with partners, we’ve paired educational resources within the meals, including Save the Children’s Weekly Learning Activity guides and Vroom’s curated Tips™ for activities – At Home, Calm & Connect, and Resources for Stressful Times. We are also connecting families with other critical resources such as cleaning supplies, diapers, books, school supplies, games and toys. We are taking every opportunity to make personal connections and share brief moments of joy with those who may be feeling lonely and isolated. Our staff members smile, wave and greet children and their families by name as they distribute meals and resources. Some have included personalized notes with the meals, while others have organized ‘parades’ to follow the buses distributing them; teachers and staff honk from their cars decorated with signs of encouragement and streamers, while families stand at their doors and gates to wave and cheer!

To support parents and caregivers enrolled in our early childhood programs, we’ve developed strategies to engage families that comply with social distancing guidance and we’re tailoring our training and technical assistance offerings to address the needs of our local staff.Because our early childhood staff are local hires, they often face the same challenges as those of the families they serve – they too are members of the same community struggling with a lack of resources and services, increasing rates of drug addiction and incarceration, and limited economic opportunities. We’re providing more training on psychological first aid and on psychosocial support for caregivers to our front-line staff so that they can manage their own health and wellbeing, as they work to support so many other caregivers in their communities.

Our alternative program strategies allow our local staff to maintain communication and support families through telephone calls, text messaging, social media platforms and video conferencing to regularly check-in with families, identify their needs, and share information on local resources. To advance caregivers’ knowledge and capacities, our staff are reviewing information on child development with them and encouraging caregivers to engage in activities that promote healthy developing and learning while at home. In addition to regularly scheduled communication, our staff are offering “office hours” when families know they will be available to connect and receive support in the moment.

Mindful of the impact of the digital divide on rural communities’ access to online information, resources and supports, our alternative approaches include high-, low- and no-tech strategies, and have the flexibility to accommodate variation in access across our program participant population, as well as our local staff who themselves may not have reliable access. This work is informed by a recent technology needs assessment conducted by West Ed (2018) in the rural communities that we serve. It demonstrated that although a vast majority of our program participants have access to a smart phone, many lack access to broadband internet and reliable cell phone service. Additionally, many families struggle to cover the cost of their digital device and internet service, while paying for basic needs such as food and utilities. To meet the needs of these families, our staff are making printed materials and other resources available to families via mail, by home delivery, or by pick up at a central community location – such as a local grocery store.

For families with access to digital devices and reliable internet access, our alternative program strategies have allowed us to rapidly innovate and increase our use of social media and online platforms to engage our participants and their communities further. To address variation in our local staffs’ proficiency in using technology, we are providing coaching and peer learning opportunities to identify and scale successful strategies across our program communities. Staff are rising to the occasion. Despite their initial apprehension, many quickly acquired new tech skills and have reported the success of their first virtual meetings with their program participants. The rewards have affirmed their hard work: Caregivers are connecting and sharing ideas and strategies for incorporating learning and engagement into their new daily routines at home and children are excited to see familiar faces and to also engage! For some families, these virtual meetings have provided an opportunity for additional family members to participate in our programming, such as parents previously unable to attend home visits or parent-child groups due to their work schedules.

In order to reach and engage caregivers across our rural partner communities, our staff are using social media to make resources and prerecorded programming publically available, including virtual book readings, and Vroom Tip activity demonstrations. Community partners, school staff and local officials have joined as “guest readers,” and in some communities, local officials and businesses have provided gift cards to encourage participation in our virtual programming.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is creating new challenges for families and providers around the world and is exacerbating the existing inequities facing children and families in rural America – Save the Children, together with our partners, is innovating and adapting to provide caregivers with the tools, resources and support needed for families to be safer and learning at home.

Highlights from the field:

Alma Rodriguez, Early Childhood Coordinator, shares a book and Vroom Tip with her home visiting families and engages them online.


In California, Save the Children is connecting with families on social media and pairing favorite children’s books with Vroom Tip activities to keep families engaged in shared reading while at home. Families respond to posted questions and share their experiences of Brain Building at home! One home visiting participant shared a video of her daughter joining in the #SAVEWITHSTORIES campaign! In the recording, her daughter sat proudly on the living room rug, carefully turning each page of her favorite book and retelling the story – complete with characters’ voices and lots of facial expression – just as she’d seen multiple celebrities do online!

Kim Bolling, Kindergarten Readiness Ambassador, delivering meal baskets and educational resources to local families.

In Kentucky, Save the Children staff are demonstrating the countless learning opportunities available while families prepare food and share meals together! Staff are boarding Rosie the Kindergarten Readiness Bus to deliver meal baskets that include ingredients for a family dinner paired with a printed booklet of Vroom Mealtime Tips! In a neighboring community, staff have created a weekly cooking show posted on social media featuring a caregiver and child demonstrating a Vroom Tip cooking activity.

Lacey Montgomery, Kindergarten Readiness Ambassador, fills a community resource box with educational resources.

In Mississippi, Save the Children is helping families to blend Brain Building Activities™ into their home routines to develop math skills and keep families healthy! Staff are distributing learning resource kits to program participants, local Head Start partners and families throughout the area through a local community resource box at the entrance of a playground closed due to COVID-19 (featured in photo). The resource kits engage caregivers and children in Vroom Math Tips and include measuring cups, rulers, ice cube trays, and Play-Doh. Additional kits include cleaning and hygiene resources, such as wipes, tissue and soap, all paired with related Vroom Tip activity cards.

Jennifer Blackwell, Early Childhood Coordinator, delivers disinfectant wipes and resources to first responders and local childcare providers.

In Tennessee, Save the Children staff are meeting a critical community need by providing local law enforcement officers, first responders, local child care providers and program participants with disinfectant wipes and educational resources.  Across the state, staff are sharing a recorded book reading every day on social media, modelling dialogic reading practices for caregivers and engaging children during the shared reading. Parents have reported that each time the Play & Learn Group leader pauses to ask a question, the children excitedly shout their answers back to her… eager to engage again with their group teacher and to connect the story back to their lives!

Michelle Hipp, Early Childhood Coordinator, delivers resource bags directly to families’ homes.

In West Virginia, Save the Children staff are ensuring that families have what they need to promote learning and healthy development at home by bringing resources directly to families’ front porches! They fill Vroom bags with food, books and printed learning resources – including Vroom Tips – for families who don’t have broadband internet or reliable transportation.

Key Resources

Coronavirus and Kids: Resources from Save the Children:

  • Weekly Learning Activity Guides for children under 5, students in grades K-1, and students in grades 2-6 (English/Spanish)
    • How to talk to kids about coronavirus (English/Spanish)
    • How to help kids cope with extended school closures (English/Spanish)
    • Five tips for adults for self-care and coping with stress (English/Spanish)
    • Relaxation activities to do at home with kids
    • Best practices for reading with your child (English/Spanish)
    • Fun ways to incorporate math (English/Spanish)
    • Ten family learning activities (English/Spanish)
    • Five tips for grandparents on staying connected
    • Our Picks: Free educational websites and apps (English/Spanish)
  • Vroom®:
    • New Vroom Tip™ collections (English/Spanish): Calm & Connect ages 0-5, At Home ages 0-5, Tips for Stressful Times
    • Vroom COVID-19 eNews
    • Vroom Moments at Home – new video playlist
    • Weekly Tip videos on Facebook (Facebook.com/joinvroom) every Tuesday at 10am PT
Photo credit: Ellery Lamm/Save the Children

Logging Reading Minutes with Save the Children’s 100 Days of Reading Campaign

Written by Sara Neumann, Director, Media & Communications, U.S. Programs 

 

Summer is my favorite season – more sunshine, time with family and friends, trips to the beach and of course, summer reading! I’ve always loved to read for pleasure – books can take you anywhere. I’m so excited that this summer, I can log my summer reading minutes as part of Save the Children’s 100 Days of Reading campaign and help children across rural America through September 8, World Literacy Day.

Literacy has always been a cornerstone of the programs we provide in the United States and around the world, and in celebration of our 100th anniversary, Save the Children has launched our inaugural summer reading campaign. Called Read A Story, Change Their Story, the campaign encourages all children, parents, teachers, librarians, caregivers, adults, and more to log their summer reading minutes at SavetheChildren.org/READ. Participants can positively impact the lives of children growing up in rural America who do not have adequate access to early learning or children’s books, while also promoting literacy in all communities.

The summer slide can affect any child, not just those growing up in poverty. Children’s summer learning experiences during their elementary school years can impact their success in higher grades, including whether they graduate from high school and even move onto college. Reading just 20 minutes a day can have tremendous impact on children – and adults – of all ages.

As a young girl, I loved the library and my elementary school librarian, Mrs. Pezzullo, in particular. She would always have a stack of recommendations waiting for my nearly daily trips. In fact, when I was little, a school librarian was my dream job. And last week, I was transported back to my elementary school days when my 6-year-old niece Lily pulled The Phantom Tollbooth off of my bookshelf. It was one of my most favorite books from childhood, but to re-read the classic alongside Lily has brought me such joy – and perspective – to talk about how we’re both imagining Milo and Tock’s trip to Dictionopolis and beyond. There were so many new words that we were inspired to buy Lily’s first children’s dictionary – my collegiate version was just a little complicated. She’s home now, but we’re continuing our adventure via FaceTime – we’re just arriving at Digitopolis with the Humbug in tow!

Reading is powerful. It changes lives. It grows minds. It informs you of the world around you, and helps you think differently, too. Since the campaign began, I’ve logged 4,400 minutes to help children in need. Will you join me?

Check out the incredible resources provided by our awesome partners – like coloring pages and reading lists and activities – to keep the fun going!

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!

 

 

Filling Homes with the Sound of Learning

By: Sarah Belanger

Sarah Belanger is an Early Childhood Program Specialist. She supervises Early Childhood Home Visitors in Jackson County, Kentucky.

When I think of why we are in Jackson County, lyrics from Paul Simon’s song “Sound of Silence” come to mind: “Silence like a cancer grows/ Hear my words that I might teach you/Take my arms that I might reach you/But my words, like silent raindrops fell/And echoed in the wells/of silence.”

A child not learning causes a type of silence in a community. In the song, Simon compares the growth of silence to cancer, just as a lack of learning can spread ignorance, misinterpretation, and place limitations on a child’s potential.

Members of Jackson County’s communities, however, are realizing that they can change the way their children are learning by committing to early childhood education. I had the privilege of meeting one such mom, Courtney*, who signed up for our Early Steps to School Success (ESSS) program. Targeting children from birth to age five, our program builds strong foundations for parenting and school readiness. As part of the program, a home visitor regularly provides Courtney with information on child development and helped her plan activities that help her use her own skills and resources to support her children’s development. In addition to home visits, ESSS facilitates parent/child groups, book bag exchanges, and community connections.

Courtney was once a young mother from rural Kentucky, who, like many parents in isolated regions, had no idea that her relationships and actions would have a significant impact on her babies’ brain development. For years she survived “on a shoestring” — as they say around here — without a job and succumbing to the temptations poverty presents – one being substance abuse. Although she desired to be a good mother to her three children, they were eventually put in the foster care system.

Having her children taken away motivated Courtney to change her life. She worked hard to recover from drug dependency, and succeeded. In time, she married and had three more children.

I am impressed by the strides Courtney has made to become a better mother. I’ve seen firsthand how she embraced the Early Steps to School Success program and understands now how important it is to read to her children. Through a resource called Vroom — an initiative of the Bezos Family Foundation — she learned that she could have a part in her children’s brain development. The five principles – look, chat, follow, stretch, take turns – help parents understand the science behind their child’s learning. Vroom incorporates activity cards, an app and a playbook as learning tools. It was humbling to hear the sound of children learning in Courtney’s home.

Not only has Vroom and ESSS helped Courtney, but events have been held in all three of the elementary schools in Jackson County to share the Vroom message. Community members have come together to share information as well. Every time a Save the Children home-visitor meets a family, more people in Jackson County hear that they can help their children learn, and make a commitment to teach others to stop the sound of silence.

*Name is changed for privacy

To learn more about how Vroom is innovating Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success program, visit our website.

The Lost Days of Summer

Lost Days of Summer

Who doesn’t love summer? For millions of kids around the country, it’s a time to have fun and experience new adventures on family vacations, at camp or through locally-organized summer activities. But these experiences are often out of reach for the more than 15 million U.S. children growing up in poverty. Especially those in isolated rural communities such as the small town where Alayshia, 8, lives in Orangeburg County, South Carolina.

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As a result, children from low-income families typically fall two to three months behind in math and reading each summer. Meanwhile, more privileged children keep advancing during those same summer months. Summer learning loss is the biggest reason why children from disadvantaged backgrounds are often three years behind their peers by the time they reach fifth grade¹. Where Alayshia and her brother live, there are no summer programs for them to attend.

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There aren’t many places for them to go either. Sometimes, Alayshia, 8, walks to a nearby friend’s house or her uncle’s. The closest library is tiny and only opens for a few hours on certain days of the week. There is no swimming pool, rec center, or summer camp within reach. “We used to have a little pool,” Alayshia says. “It’s on the trash pile now because it got a hole in it.”

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Alayshia’s mother Novella recently got laid off from the factory where she’s worked on and off for 13 years. After Alayshia eats breakfast and plays video games in the morning, her mom has her and her brother sit down to do some math worksheets and practice reading for half an hour. “I wish there was a summer program for them to go to,” Novella says.

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In neighboring Barnwell County, South Carolina, Ja’Faith wakes up every morning at 5 when her father, a food service manager, returns from letting the milkman into her school. They often read together over breakfast, then Ja’Faith and her brothers play while waiting for the bus to take them to Save the Children’s SummerBoost Camp at their school.

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Ja’Faith, 8, had a tough start in life that her adoptive parents haven’t yet fully explained to her. But they say her early experiences made concentrating in a typical classroom setting challenging. The way SummerBoost Camp mixes games and physical activity with academics has been a big hit with Ja’Faith.

“She loves the program. She hasn’t missed a day,” says her dad, Jack.

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Ja’Faith looks forward to attending SummerBoost each day. “It’s fun,” she says. “I like to learn.”

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At SummerBoost Camp, the day gets started with a call and response game that get the kids excited for a day of learning and fun. Children rotate through blocks of academically-focused activities and games, as well as community service, physical activity and team building.

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The summer program also includes two healthy meals – breakfast and lunch. During the school year, some local kids show up for school hungry on Mondays. For many, the summer months would be especially tough if they couldn’t eat at camp. “They get fed and they stay off the streets,” says Jack. Together with the learning, it’s a winning combination, he says. “Now when school opens up, it’s just a refresher course and they’re ready to go. They didn’t sit around and just watch TV all day or eat popcorn and chips.”

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During the school year, Ja’Faith participates in Save the Children’s after school program, which focuses on helping struggling readers catch up. She has made steady progress through the school year, and her SummerBoost coaches – and her friends – keep her motivated and learning all summer long. That helped Ja’Faith start first grade strong last year and even make the honor role. Her dad says, “I asked Faye a few times ‘What do you want to be? What do you want to do?’ She would always say ‘I want to work for Save the Children, or save a child in some kind of way.’”

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Since SummerBoost runs for six hours, Save the Children can expand its after school focus on literacy and health to cover the “STEAM” subjects – science, technology, engineering, art and math. Here, Ja’Faith and her brother have fun playing a game that helps them practice math equations.

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Back in Orangeburg County, Alayshia and her brother make up their own games in their backyard. When she started second grade at the end of last summer, Alayshia tested as reading at a low first-grade level. Over the course of the school year, Save the Children’s after school program helped her catch up and even reach a third-grade reading level. “She made a whole lot of progress, and I’m proud of her for making that progress,” her mom says. “Now, I’m afraid she might fall off back off and then have to work her way back up to that same progress.”

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With no funding to provide SummerBoost at Alayshia’s school, all that her Save the Children literacy tutors could do at the end of the school year was send home some books with Alayshia and encourage her to keep up her reading. But with no summer program, she also won’t get the extra help she needs in math, which was a big struggle for her this past year. When she returns to school next month, Alayshia will be repeating the second grade.

To learn more about Save the Children’s US Programs, please visit our website

Photo Essay by Susan Warner
Story by Tanya Weinberg

¹Cooper, H., Borman G., & Fairchild, R. (2010). “School Calendars and Academic Achievement.” In J. Meece & J. Eccles (eds.) Handbook on Research on Schools, Schooling, and Human Development (pp. 342-355). 

 

 

The Future Belongs to Educated Girls

This post is part of the blog series, “Her Goals: Our Future,” which highlights the connections between girls and women and the Sustainable Development Goals. It originally appeared on the UN Foundation Blog

 

March marks five years since the conflict in Syria began, the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Half of the population has been forced to flee their homes, with 6.6 million people displaced inside Syria and another 4.7 million refugees seeking safety and assistance in neighboring countries and Europe. Children are among the most vulnerable of all, bearing the brunt of the war. They are being bombed, facing starvation, and dying from preventable illnesses.

 

For those who manage to escape and find safety in neighboring countries, they can’t escape the psychological trauma. To ensure we don’t lose an entire generation to the effects of war, Save the Children is running schools, distributing healthy foods, and providing support to the war’s youngest survivors. Our team has collected stories of children in Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt.

 

For some of these children, war is all they know.

 

One of the most compelling stories is that of Dana*, a 5-year-old Syrian child currently living in the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Her brothers and sisters share what a wonderful place Syria was before the war and how they will return one day, but she doesn’t want to go back as she only remembers the bombs and violence. When Dana was only 3 years old, she was left alone in the house during a bombing in the middle of the night. Her father was able to rescue her, but her house was burned down and her family lost everything.

 

Dana is now in kindergarten at a school Save the Children runs in Jordan. She told our team that she likes learning the letters of the alphabet and playing on the slide with her friends. Dana wants to be a kindergarten teacher one day to help other children learn what she knows.

 

Dana’s mother, Um Rashid*, said, “The future belongs to girls who are educated.” She has seven children, five girls and two boys, between the ages of 3 and 16. The young mother wants to return to Syria one day and admits it is hard to hear Dana say that she never wants to go back to Syria because as refugees that is the only hope they cling to. Yet she is grateful that her children – especially her daughters – are being educated while they are safe in Jordan. She said, “What do they have without education?” Without education they get stuck in marriage at a young age.

 

I agree with Um Rashid that education is key to ensuring a brighter future for Syria. The conflict is complicated, and we must continue to put pressure on world leaders to help stop the fighting, but in the meantime, we owe it to the children to do our part today – individuals can visit SavetheChildren.org to learn more and donate so we can continue to help children survive and learn.

 

*Names have been changed for security reasons.

Syrian Children Have a Right to Go to School

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David Skinner

Director, Education Global Initiative, SCI

Lebanon

February 16, 2016

The statistics are difficult to fathom. There are 1.4 million children who are affected by the war in Syria who are of school age and who are living as refugees in the neighbouring countries: Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. More than half of these children are out of school.

Over the last three years, Lebanon alone has taken into its public education system 150,000 children who are refugees from the conflict in Syria. Accommodating an additional 150,000 children in schools in the United Kingdom would be a challenge. But in Lebanon the proportions are different. In Lebanon there are only 150,000 Lebanese children in the public education system. So the influx of refugee children has meant that every state school in Lebanon has had to double in size in the last three years. Every school – double the size. 

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Syrian children attend classes at a Save the Children supported school for refugees in Tripoli, Lebanon.

In addition, the children who are joining the schools have been subject to severe stress. They have been moved from what was once the security of their homes in Syria. They have seen things that no one – let alone a child – should ever see. And their families are under severe economic stress because of the great difficulty that refugees have finding work in Lebanon. All of these factors are significant barriers to accessing the educational system in Lebanon.

The Lebanese people deserve enormous credit for what they have already done to help Syrian children go to school: schools have introduced a two-shift system; teachers are working longer and longer hours to support the refugee children.

But it is not enough.

There are a further 150,000 children who should be in school, but are not. Although teachers have received some support to help them assist severely stressed children with learning, more needs to be done. Although there is an enormous need to provide support for the youngest children, the provision for pre-school support for refugees is pretty much non-existent.

I am writing this in Lebanon, where I came to look at the kind of support that Save the Children is providing already, as well as the support that we should be providing in the future. Education is a human right, and it is the means by which society equips children with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in the world. It also saves lives, protects and builds peace.

The Bekaa Valley is – on a good day – a 60-minute drive from Beirut (the Syrian border is only 60 minutes away). It is beautiful: snow-covered mountains on both sides of fertile pasture.

In the gaps between the houses and on random fields in the agricultural areas, landlords have let out spaces to communities of refugees for informal settlements. These consist of flimsy shanty huts. It is the children in these settlements who we are supporting.

One of our projects involves providing early childhood support. We have helped communities find the space and the materials to run early childhood development activities for three to six year olds. The spaces are temporary. We use tents or unfinished buildings; buildings that the owner had started to build but are now unfinished shells. We rent the shell, put in polythene windows, carpets and partitions, and create a serviceable space.

We have also helped find Syrian refugees to act as facilitators (very often refugees who were fully qualified teachers in Syria) alongside facilitators from Lebanon. The centres are packed with young children. They are playing, they are singing. They are drawing and coloring.

But, above all, these children are developing their skills. They are learning how to socialize with children of their own age. They are understanding what a book is; how to hold a pencil. They are sorting objects and starting to understand basic numeracy. This is all done through fun activities and play. Activities that would be recognizable in pre-schools across the United Kingdom.

The centers are very popular with the children and with their parents. It is the sight of children engaged and happy and learning, despite the horrendous experiences they have suffered, that confirms that the work you do is having a genuine and positive impact on the lives of some of the most deprived children.

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Syrian children attend classes at a Save the Children supported school for refugees in Tripoli, Lebanon.

The other activity I visited was a homework support session. I was quietly skeptical about this when I saw it on my itinerary. It sounded a little trivial. But witnessing the reality made it clear quite how wrong I was.

Children from Syria are taught in Arabic. In Lebanon they are taught – after the first few years – in either French or English. Children who have left Syria have very often had to miss significant parts of their education because of instability at home or because of the journeys that they have had to take. They find learning in the Lebanese system hard. So we are helping them.

Most Syrian children attend the afternoon shift of the schools. In the morning we run sessions for a couple of hours, where they can get additional support for their learning. Save the Children’s support goes well beyond simply making sure they do the exercises they have been assigned for homework. It’s effectively remedial help across all the subjects that they are learning. The sessions are wildly popular. The group I visited had forty children in a small – very small – room with four teachers who were providing fantastic assistance. Despite the cramped conditions, the children were taking extraordinary steps in their learning.

Children like the ones I met in the Bekaa Valley have suffered enormously. They are facing an insecure and uncertain future. They don’t have – no one has – any idea when they will be able to go back to their homes in Syria. But they are determined that they are not going to be left behind. They are determined to do what they can to learn. Their parents are determined to help them. And we are determined to make sure that they have their right to learn fulfilled.

To learn more about our response to the Syria crisis, click here

The Best Gift Parents Can Give

Written by Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children | This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post

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.”

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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.

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.”

floor time

“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.

450,000 Children Out of School in Turkey

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Sera Marshall

Communications Coordinator

Turkey

November 23, 2015

On September 28th, schools across Turkey opened their doors for the start of the academic year.

But nearly 450,000 school-aged Syrian children did not step into a classroom that day. Instead of sitting behind a desk, in a safe learning environment, you see many of those kids in cities across Turkey selling tissues on the roadside, running errands in stores or climbing into dumpsters to collect recyclable materials.

In Hatay, where our field office is located, you might see some in the fields picking the cotton harvest at this time of year.

Every child deprived of an education is at risk of becoming part of a 'lost generation'.

Even in the early days of the crisis that now engulfs Syria, many ordinary Syrians who fled to Turkey for safety recognised the need to address the lack of education facilities for their children. Ordinary men and women took it upon themselves to rent space, volunteer their time to teach, find desks, chairs and whiteboards all in an effort to ensure their children would not grow up illiterate, and instead have a future for their own families. 

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Vahar's* family fled their home in Syria when the town was attacked. She has not been able to go to school since she arrived in Turkey but is currently attending a Child Friendly Space supported by Save the Children where she has the opportunity to keep learning and meet new friends. *Name changed for protection

The Government of Turkey took a courageous step in 2014 and passed legislation that would bring these informally operating schools under the coordination of the Ministry of National Education. Currently 18,122 Syrian children are enrolled in 69 Temporary Education Centres (TECs) across Hatay province alone. The government of Turkey has shown unprecedented levels of generosity and hospitality – spending up to 8 billion dollars – on refugees from Syria and Iraq. Yet, this is only a small fraction of the overall need. Globally, education and child protection are the two sectors that receive the least amount of aid funding. Partners such as UNICEF and international NGOs like Save the Children are working to help bridge that gap.

But it is not as simple as throwing money at the problem. Meaningful understanding of the actual needs of refugee and host communities coupled with projects designed to address these needs are required. To this effect, we carried out a needs assessment of every Temporary Education Centre in Hatay and revealed a thorough yet stark picture of the varying challenges – from transport to textbooks – faced when trying to provide education to Syrian children.

As the crisis has deepened, the needs of refugees has evolved. It is no longer a matter of providing basic humanitarian relief but enabling refugees to live with dignity and, most importantly, hope for a better future.

I have visited several Temporary Education Centres in Hatay as part of our work. At one TEC, a soft spoken head teacher from Aleppo thanked me for the assistance Save the Children in Turkey was providing. This man is so dedicated that he works six days a week, up to 12 hours a day and has gotten into personal debt so that running water and electricity of the TEC would not be cut off. I could not help myself, I listened to his words of gratitude and told him: "No; thank you. "Without you, these children would not have been getting an education for the past three years. I am sorry the international community has been so slow to come to your aid."

"Better late than never," he replied.

To learn more about our response to the Syria crisis, click here.