One of the most important messages about early childhood education we hear from our teachers, our school administrators, local community organizations, friends and neighbors is the need to support and to strengthen parents’ engagement in their children’s learning. It is especially important in the earliest years of a child’s life, when time reading, playing and interacting with adults can dramatically improve literacy, while reinforcing good behavior and socio-emotional well-being.
Cedar Valley Readers is launching community-wide awareness campaign this winter focused on one popular tool for encouraging confidence in parents as their children’s first and most important teacher. It comes in the form a free downloadable mobile app called Daily Vroom.
Through suggested activities and lessons, Vroom encourages connecting, talking, observing and reflecting with children from age zero to five – the most fertile time for brain growth and development. The human brain develops at an astounding rate during this period, gaining 92% of its adult brain size by age five. Brain-building activities are suggested through the app with a simple reminder and can be tailored to all times of day, from bath time to grocery store visits. Some activities take as little as 30 seconds, others just a few minutes.
We recently sat down with Stephanie Shavers, Operation Threshold’s Parents as Teachers (PAT) program supervisor, to discuss how her home-visit staff uses Vroom to promote parent engagement in families with young children.
Over fifty families with pre-k children are currently enrolled in Operation Threshold’s PAT program. Three full-time staff members, or parent-educators, make visits to individual families at least twice monthly and also offer group parenting sessions to help parents prepare their kids for school. During visits, parent-educators promote the use of inexpensive or home-made tools to test children’s cognitive ability and to detect developmental delays. They work alongside parents to suggest activities and brain-building games, reinforcing that parents do not need fancy gadgets or expensive materials to encourage learning or to succeed as their child’s first teacher.
“…kids begin to see technology as more than a tool for entertainment, but that it can be used for learning in a fun, interactive way.”
Many PAT home-visits begin the same way, with kids waiting eagerly for their PAT visitor to pull out their iPad and use the app’s “Today’s Vroom” suggestion to play a game and begin their visit, such as “Make a homemade puzzle by using an empty box with a picture on it, such as a cereal box. Cut the picture into pieces and ask your child to put it back together.” By interacting with Vroom consistently at these early visits, Stephanie explains that “kids begin to see technology as more than a tool for entertainment, but that it can be used for learning in a fun, interactive way.” Vroom helps families foster a healthy relationship with technology in the home.
Often families receiving visits from PAT’s parent-educators are working to overcome additional hurdles in their work toward preparing their children for kindergarten. 93% of the families currently visited through the PAT program are non-English speaking immigrant families of Burmese, Congolese or Latino heritage. In this setting, Vroom functions in a dual capacity; it suggests brain-building activities, but it also helps both parents and children with their English language skills
Many families visited through the PAT program continue to use the app when the visits are over, and understand the importance of continued in-home learning. By using tools like Vroom, PAT parents see they can be successful teachers in the home and that learning does not stop when school is not in session. “It’s important to our staff to leave something with the families after their visits, whether it is a book, a toy, or a new game or lesson,” explains Stephanie. “Vroom makes this so easy. The little bitty lessons are easy to remember and fun to do.”
For more information and download instructions for Vroom please visit www.joinvroom.org. For more information on Operation Threshold and the Parents as Teachers program, please visit www.operationthreshold.org. If you are interested in having one of our staff visit your organization to talk about how you might use Vroom in your own work, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.