New Great Start Collaborative & Parent Coalition initiative encourages parents to engage children in everyday moments
Everyday conversations with young children can have the power to boost their brain and vocabulary development through the simple act of talking. That is the premise behind a new initiative known as “Talking is Teaching,” which has launched in the communities of the Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District and throughout the state.
“Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing” is a public awareness and action campaign that empowers parents and caregivers with fun and easy ways to improve their babies’ and young children’s learning, said Maureen Hollocker, Great Start Collaborative Director, which is leading the regional Talking is Teaching effort.
In partnership with Michigan’s Department of Education and the Great Start Collaborative & Parent Coalitions, Michigan is the first official “Talking is Teaching” state for this national initiative. Hollocker said that although the campaigns across Michigan will be unique to each community, each will include three core elements:
- Trusted messengers who have established positive, trusting relationships with parents and are conduits of information and tools.
- High-quality materials and tools, such as tote bags filled with tip sheets, baby clothing, books and more.
- Messages in community spaces and local media, ranging from signage in and around public spaces to local radio ads and social media outreach.
“While it may sound simple, we all live busy lives and sometimes are task-oriented rather than conversational with our children,” Hollocker said. “Whether you are a parent, caregiver or community member, we all have opportunities to talk with children and this campaign is intended to provide gentle reminders and prompts for conversation.”
Numerous studies point to early language exposure being a positive indicator of later developmental growth and achievement. Parents are powerful teachers in their children’s lives and they don’t have to be early childhood experts to succeed – they need only to talk and connect, Hollocker added.
Reaching new parents; laundromats as partners
An important part of the Talking is Teaching initiative includes providing concrete supports for families in their daily lives. This is being carried out in the form of Bathtime/Bedtime Literacy Totes and by partnering with laundromats in Charlevoix, Emmet and northern Antrim counties.
Talking is Teaching Bathtime/Bedtime Literacy Totes are being offered free to parents living in Charlevoix, Emmet and northern Antrim counties with a child younger than one year of age. The tote includes a onesie and bath towel with conversation prompts, a water- and rip-proof book and informational leaflets with tips. “We want parents of babies to realize that it is never too early to talk, read and sing, and these materials empower them to do this during bathtime and bedtime – both opportunities for building a parent-child bond,” Hollocker said. The full contents of the tote can be viewed on the Great Start Collaborative website along with a request link: www.GreatStartForKids.com.
Hollocker said laundromats are a natural partner in launching the campaign, “because they are part of many young families’ routines, with an average of 2.5 hours spent during each visit.” The Great Start Parent Coalition (GSPC) is seeking to change “doing the laundry” from a tedious routine to a fun and educational opportunity instead, she added.
Over the past few years, the GSPC and partners including the Child Abuse Prevention and Education Council (CAPE) have held “Love of Laundry” events at laundromats. These events support families with free coin laundry, healthy snacks, and crafts for children while connecting families with local resources. Looking to expand this concept, and thanks to grant funds from the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five Initiative, the GSPC is now working to create Talking is Teaching Literacy Stations at all local laundromats.
“This initiative is about meeting parents in the everyday spaces where they go with their children, honoring them as their child’s first and most important teacher and creating literacy-rich environments that set parents and children up for success” said Great Start Parent Liaison, Jean Faivor.
The GSPC has commitments from three of seven local laundromats and is working to secure more. “We cut the ribbon on Central Lake’s Wash Basket laundromat on Dec. 5 and we hope to have East Jordan’s Laundry Station and Alanson’s Laundry Center set up in early January 2020. Our funds must be expended by the end of February, so we are hoping other laundromats will see the value and jump on board to let us install a Talking is Teaching Literacy Station at their business,” Faivor said.
The Great Start Collaborative leaders noted that the concept of combining laundry and literacy is not new and has been tested across the country. A couple key findings include:
Children were observed engaging in 30 times more literacy activities in laundromats that include the “Laundry & Literacy” kits compared to laundromats that did not.
Customers reported high praise for the literacy stations and felt greater loyalty to the laundromat.
“Even for our laundromats that already have a children’s ‘play area,’ with this grant we have the opportunity to transform the space into a robust Talking is Teaching Literacy Station with high-quality materials designed to create a playful, literacy-rich space for young children and families,” said Hollocker. “We are excited to see this develop and blossom with use by our families throughout Northern Michigan.”
The Great Start Talking is Teaching Bathtime/Bedtime Literacy Totes and Laundromat Talking is Teaching sites in Charlevoix, Emmet & northern Antrim Counties are currently supported by the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five Initiative (PDG B-5), Grant Number 90TP0002, from the Office of Child Care, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.