What: Sesame Workshop and the Ounce of Prevention Fund, in collaboration with the National Head Start Association (NHSA), commit to the creation, piloting, and launch of Parents & Children Learning Together - a new initiative to enrich everyday parenting with vital information, practical and fun learning tools, and peer connection. Parents & Children Learning Together will be designed to connect high-touch and robust early learning experiences with a convenient mobile platform that supports both parent and child development anytime, anywhere, even when parents' time and resources are limited. Parents & Children Learning Together will focus on helping parents strengthen bonds with their young children and understand their child's development. Additionally, Parents & Children Learning Together will connect parents to each other to build new connections supporting successful parenting.
The project will include three key components: 1) A digital platform that delivers parenting information via multimedia text experiences, a 'digital tap on the shoulder,' offering ways for parents to co-engage with children around their education and development, with high-quality educational content; 2) A 'high-touch' program component, providing family engagement resources and guides for educators to create meaningful learning moments with parents that reinforce and extend the impact of the digital components; 3) A social networking function to encourage parent-to-parent connection, sharing, celebration, and continued engagement.
The partners plan to pilot the project in 2015 with Head Start centers and subsequently roll out a national program in 2016.
Contributions: This initiative will bring together the proven power of Sesame's early childhood characters and innovative content with the Ounce's evidence-based family engagement model, as well as NHSA's reach and experience. Each organization has designated staff to advance and implement the project. Sesame's team will provide expertise in the development of engaging educational media content for parents and children, and the building of a virtual social network. The Ounce will provide expertise in the research and best practices of family engagement, child development and early childhood program development, implementation, and scaling.
In 2013 and early 2014, Sesame Workshop and the Ounce carried out planning meetings and conducted extensive formative research with parents/caregivers in our target audience, in order to inform our project's approach and roll-out strategy.
Pending commitment of funding to support the initiative, we expect the project to be carried out over the following approximate timeline:
June 2014: Official announcement of partnership
July 2014-Aug 2014: Create concept paper; Identify fundraising prospects.
Sept 2014 - Dec 2014: Develop pilot program for early childhood settings; develop 'high-touch' program component. Begin development of social media platform. Identify pilot participants (Head Start parents/educators). Develop evaluation plan and tools for first pilot.
Jan 2015: Launch pilot program for approximately 4-6 weeks, conducting research to assess use of a digital prototype with families in one early learning program. Issue findings in March.
April 2015-May 2015: Make program modifications based on findings. Develop evaluation plan and tools for second pilot.
May-Aug 2015: Conduct larger-scale pilot program in 3 communities, including research to assess the use of an expanded digital prototype that includes a social networking component. Pilot program will be approximately 8-12 weeks, with families in six Head Start programs (2 in each of the 3 communities).
Sept-Dec 2015: Research analysis conducted, research report completed and findings presented.
Jan-Aug 2016: Program modifications made based on research findings.
Sept 2016: Launch national roll-out of full program model. We will expand the program through national networks of early learning programs, including Head Start and other child care networks and partners.
The prenatal period and first five years of life are critical for both child and parent development. It is during these early years that children learn the skills and behaviors that will lay the foundation for their lifelong academic and social-emotional success. Indeed, it is during these early childhood years that the achievement gap, the disparity in academic performance between low-income children and their higher-income peers, takes root: the gap appears as early as nine months of age (Halle et al, 2009). Research indicates that 44% of children enter kindergarten with one or more risk factors based on their home environment (e.g., poverty, parents with less than a high school education, etc.), and children with these risk factors have lower school readiness scores than those with no such circumstances (Bernstein et al, 2014).
But a growing body of research now demonstrates the powerful influence of parent engagement in their child's learning in closing this gap. Parent involvement in a child's learning at home and in school has been significantly associated with a child's motivation to learn, with higher academic achievement, and with lower rates of high school dropout (Fantuzzo, McWayne & Perry 2004; Barnard 2000). Importantly, the learning environment within homes has been proven to be one of the most powerful predictors of young children's development (Dickinson & DeTemple, 1998; Mantzicopoulos, 1997; Parker et al, 1999).
Among the nation's 10.6 million low-income families, parents face numerous challenges that limit their ability to participate in their child's learning to their fullest potential. Low-income parents are less likely to have the time and resources to devote to their child's learning, may lack access to educational resources, and may lack connections to the peers and networks that provide critical information on child development and parenting (Small 2010; Hoover, Dempsey & Sandler, 1997).
At this moment there is an intensified focus on digital media and mobile technology as promising vehicles for reaching and engaging parents. Additionally, there are also a limited number of products targeting social-emotional learning despite its importance to children's success and school readiness. As a result, the Parents & Children Learning Together initiative is seeking financial resources and topic expertise to produce digital and in-person tools and supports to meet increasing demand for resources to effectively fill the social-emotional gap for parents.
The project will first feature a product test in three early childhood programs. Lessons from the product test evaluation will then inform a soft launch at nine programs in three cities. In the last phase, a regional roll out will be implemented across the country. Financial resources and topic expertise will be used to support the project in every phase.