As any parent of a school-aged child knows, there are a lot of meetings and events at school, and it can be difficult to keep your children occupied during these meetings.
For parent students in independent study programs, the situation can be even more difficult. Not only are there meetings, but students also have to take assessments and other school-related tests with their children nearby, which can lead to distractions and worries.
To meet this need, individuals from the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE), Community Schools and Juvenile Courts (JCCS), grant services and early childhood education teams are working together to develop resources for short people to enjoy constructive time, or RESPECT, project, to provide simple, age-appropriate, multilingual activities to do with children in non-traditional childcare situations. Funding for the project became available through the recent JCCS California Community Schools Partnership Program grant.
The aim is to integrate kits with a multitude of physical and digital activities on school sites and to create a website with resources and instructional videos so that anyone on the site can work productively with children . The intended age for the resources is from birth to 5 years old, but there will also be activities for older children. The kits will be available at all JCCS school sites early next year.
Steph Johnston, a JCCS supervisor who works with students and parent and family liaisons, had heard from parents and staff about the need for this kind of help. Johnston contacted Michelle Houle of Grant Services to discuss some possible solutions.
Once the need to ensure children were engaged in meaningful activities and the need to identify a more formal means of providing these supports was established, Houle said the next clear step was to bring in colleagues from the SDCOE Early Childhood Education Department.
Houle partnered with California Preschool Instructional Network/Dual Language Learner lead and subject matter expert Martha Garcia de Montes to help create and curate the educational resources.
“It’s amazing that children’s time is finally valued and recognized. Not only for parents attending something important, but children’s time is important when they are waiting for their parents,” said Garcia de Montes.
According to Houle, the key to the success of this project is that it is a fully iterative process.
“This is a collaborative effort with parents, grandparents and JCCS families. We ask them, ‘What do you want to see that will show that your child is respected?’ “, she explained. “And another key is that when we’re talking about appropriate activities, we’re talking about all the meanings of the word: culturally, linguistically, and developmentally appropriate.”
The project development process began in July with a meeting to gather feedback from JCCS parents and a follow-up survey was sent out in September to gather additional feedback. The team orders supplies and worked with the SDCOE graphics team to create cost-effective materials to distribute. They plan to field test this month with the aim of launching early next year.
The team does not present the resources as an alternative to quality early childhood education, but rather as additional resources to improve the quality of interactions children can experience when in these situations.
“Families need to feel their children are respected and cared for by someone who truly understands how to support children and engage during this time,” Garcia de Montes said.