As the summer break approaches, I have started to notice how much the students and parents in Healthy Tots have grown throughout the year. Arranged through the Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning’s Project SHINE, Healthy Tots aims to fill the gap for refugee children not currently enrolled in ECE by offering those early learning experiences that prepare children to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. Each week we explore new activities that foster physical, intellectual, and social development. It is truly exciting to see our tots make such great strides in following directions, solving puzzles, and interacting with each other at a level much greater than before.
Seeing this level of growth, in a class that only takes place once per week, highlights the importance of ECE. Each class we explore new activities, but we also have two consistent activities each class. First, each child has a star with their name on it. When they enter class, they go up to our attendance board and place their star next to their picture. As the year has progressed, students have developed picture recognition and hand and eye coordination; going from needing help finding their picture and putting their star up to being able to do this independently. The second activity is a welcome song, where each student introduces themselves to the group. Few students were able to do this at the start of the year, but as the year went on, more and more students were able to do so. Now, at the end of the year, even the most shy and youngest tots have developed the language skill and confidence to do so.
Our tots have also made great strides in adapting healthy behaviors; from sampling new fruits and vegetables, to learning about germs and sneezing into your elbow instead of on your neighbor. Watching these changes occur has been the most meaningful part for me, allowing me to explore a personal interest in public health. It’s not only about eating healthy and washing our hands, but also learning at a young age how to make decisions that affect our general wellbeing. For example, seeing a child who once ran across the street without looking, stop, hold their parents hand and look both ways before crossing the street. This weekly school readiness program has helped children of a refugee background prepare for school, but it has gone a step further than this.
What makes this program so special is that it helps parents prepare for their students to enter school. Participating in class each week, our parents are learning how to be engaged and stay a part of their child’s education. This has provided a unique opportunity to encourage and instill parent engagement, along with positive attendance habits. While parents are learning how to be partners in their child’s education, they are picking up new skills along the way. Weekly, parents practice using the English language, learn about health and safety, and develop the foundation to support their children throughout school. One area of growth has been differentiating between supporting your child in an activity and doing the activity for them. This has been an important part of the class because it has allowed for the children to develop confidence and problem solving skills. This collaboration between parent and child and investment in education will set the stage for school success.
– Kelly Scenna, AmeriCorps Member at Grant Beacon Middle School