A program of the Bright Horizons Foundation for Children®

Learning Resources

“Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing”

Free Resources to Promote Children’s Early Brain & Language Development through Bright Spaces

By Jane Park Woo, Deputy Director, Too Small to Fail

Too Small to Fail is proud to partner with the Bright Horizons Foundation for Children® to promote children’s early brain and language development in Bright Spaces across the country.

Decades of research reveal how critical the early years are for children’s long-term health, learning, and development. Infants’ and toddlers’ brains develop at an extraordinary rate, forming the foundation for lifelong learning and health. The first three years in particular are a unique window of opportunity for rapid brain development. The stimulation children receive and the interactions they share with their caregivers during this time have a profound impact on their future physical, cognitive, and social-emotional well-being.

Research shows that simple, everyday activities—like talking, reading, and singing from birth—can boost children’s vocabularies and prepare them for success in school and beyond. That’s why, four years ago, Too Small to Fail launched “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing,” a public awareness and action campaign designed highlight the importance of earl brain development and to support parents with tools and resources to talk, read, and sing with their children from birth.

We work through local trusted messengers like pediatricians and faith leaders, along with community and business leaders, to weave our messages into the fabric of communities across the country. We also work to meet parents where they are in the everyday places they go with their children—whether it’s their local laundromat, playground, grocery store, or child care center.

Through our partnership with Bright Spaces, we have had the opportunity to expand our reach and engage families experiencing homelessness and other crises. We are supporting the critically important work Bright Space agencies already doing by providing them with tools and resources to create language-rich environments for the families they serve. We have also equipped Bright Space staff and volunteers with colorful and engaging materials—including posters, tip sheets, and other resources—to encourage parents to keep talking, reading, and singing with their children anytime, anywhere.

Tania Maria Santana, Child & Youth Coordinator at Casa Central’s La Posada, an interim shelter and Bright Space agency in Chicago, has shared how she has incorporated our “Let’s Talk” posters in her work with children. For example, she has been using our “Let’s Talk about Moving Our Bodies” poster to engage children in physical activities and conversations about different ways to stay healthy and active.

Too Small to Fail is grateful for dedicated partners like La Posada and all the Bright Spaces® that are working to improve the lives of children, empower parents to be the best they can be, and create brighter futures for families all across the country.  For information about Too Small to Fail, please visit www.toosmall.org and our resource website—www.talkingisteaching.org/communities.

Good News, Bad News Loss: Timing is Everything

by Diane Nilan, HEAR US

Perfect timing! In my HEAR US travels across highways and byways, I inevitably lose the magnet signs advertising my unique nonprofit effort, giving voice and visibility to families and youth experiencing homelessness. My loss coincided with recently released estimates of the extent of family/youth homelessness, giving me the opportunity to update my sign.

These signs—on the back of my little blue van, which serves as my home, office and transport—get seen by thousands of people stuck behind me in traffic. My naive hope is someone will be curious, motivated, or jarred into looking into the almost-invisible issue of homeless families and youth.

My signs started with the “official” U.S. Department of Education census—schools are required to report the number of homeless students they identify. To no surprise, that number has skyrocketed from about 600,000 in 2006, the year I hit the road for HEAR US, to 1.3 million this past year.

But few realize the shortcoming of this number. As bad as it is, it does not include babies, toddlers, or teens/young adults outside school systems. It also only reflects those identified in school, a number that could easily be doubled if all were counted. My new sign says “Over 6 Million,” a conservative estimate. HEAR US offers this simple breakdown  of these numbers.

Why the worry about numbers?

On one critical level, underreporting creates a perfect excuse for underfunding programs and services to help families and youth attain and maintain housing. Congress remains in the dark about how many have nowhere to call home, much less of the impact on millions of kids. This 8-minute video HEAR US produced for a congressional hearing on family homelessness offers a viewpoint not often considered—those affected by this crisis.

On a more tangible, human level, what we don’t know seems like it won’t hurt us. We think homelessness is “over there,” in urban areas, not in our own communities. And we think that “they” have taken care of it. Those of us working with this population know otherwise. We rely on the shock factor of dramatic numbers to get the attention this ongoing issue needs—pushing for legislative action and local responses.

But, alas, the response, and critical media attention, seems to be missing. When the respected Chapin Hall (University of Chicago) recently released a groundbreaking report, “Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America,” it garnered barely a ripple of attention despite its unprecedented assessment of the extent of youth, including young parents, with nowhere to go.

For the past 13 years I’ve been engaged in my Quixotic-quest to raise awareness. HEAR US has produced several short videos (available free) featuring families and youth experiencing homelessness.

Our latest little publication, The Charlie Book: 60 Ways to Help Homeless Kids, offers practical, simple ways to make a difference locally.

Those reading this little blog know what it takes to make a difference—you do it all the time! Your involvement with Bright Spaces and other efforts directly touches young children and parents in your communities. If everyone did what you do, this issue would be eradicated.

I’ll continue my “drive-by” advocacy, and I’ll count on people like you doing your best to impact little ones locally. Our challenge is to raise awareness, and involvement, so this issue becomes lost because it’s solved.

Short Bio:

Diane Nilan, founder/president of HEAR US Inc., has more than 3 decades of experience running shelters; advocating for improved state and federal policies; filming/producing award-winning documentaries, My Own Four Walls, on the edge: Family Homelessness in America, and several short films; writing Crossing the Line: Taking Steps to End Homelessness; addressing audiences from Columbia University to Congress; and inspiring a “compassion epidemic” to address homelessness.

Since 2005, Nilan has lived in a small motor home and traveled over 300,000 miles of mostly back roads across all of the lower 48 states chronicling non-urban family/youth homelessness.

 

 

Creating a Safety-Conscious Environment for Children

by JT Fest, JT Fest Consulting

We all know how important it is to ensure young people’s safety. Maslow’s “pyramid” of needs identifies safety as being second in importance only to physiological needs (air, food, water, etc.). But when we talk about safety for youth, particularly in our communities and our schools, we tend to focus our attention on their physical safety; protecting them from harm. In fact, the dictionary definition of safety; the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury; focuses our attention on physical threats.

Whether it be in education, child care, or parenting, creating physical safety for children has always guided policy and practice. We re-think playground equipment and activities (there aren’t too many see-saws or dodge ball games anymore), protect against physical or sexual abuse by predators, train children to be aware of “stranger danger,” and having policies to deal with Active Shooter situations. As those charged with the care of young people, the physical safety of children in our care is and should be of primary importance.

But that’s only half of the equation. In fact, when you consider that children being physically harmed in care is the exception rather than the rule, it’s unlikely that physical safety is even half. So before we pat ourselves on the back for our successes in keeping children physically safe, we need to accept that physical safety is not our only concern or responsibility. A much greater threat faced by children is the threat to their psychological and emotional well-being. If we are not paying at least as much attention to a child’s psycho-emotional safety as we are to their physical safety, then no matter how physically safe we make the environment, we are failing in our responsibility.

Very few of the children who come into our care present with physical injuries. However, there is a growing awareness that far too many have histories of traumatic experiences, and they come to us with injuries that we cannot see. Formal diagnosis of PTSD as a result of adverse childhood experiences is on the rise, as is recognition of CTS (Childhood Traumatic Stress); a condition resulting from exposure to traumatic stress that results in life impairment; such as the ability to concentrate, learn, or perform in school. These psycho-emotional injuries often appear to us to be “behavioral” issues, and how we choose to respond can either help or harm. We don’t blame a child with a broken leg for limping; neither should we blame a child who has experienced trauma for exhibiting behaviors associated with trauma.

A physically safe environment is critical, but it is not enough if the environment is not perceived by the young person as being one in which they are psycho-emotionally safe, as well. Below are some examples of what makes young people “feel” safe. It’s not an exhaustive list, but I hope it provides some food for thought when examining your environments and the means by which you guarantee physical safety, to see if psycho-emotional safety is also being addressed.

A young person “feels” safe in environments that provide:

  • A sense of belonging and acceptance; being valued and treated with respect and dignity
  • Permission to fail, to make mistakes, to forget, or to need additional practice
  • Having one’s own unique talents, skills and qualities recognized and acknowledged
  • Understanding and clarity (about requirements and expectations); predictability (consistency, being able to predict how people may react or what may result from actions); a lack of ambiguity or arbitrariness
  • Freedom to make choices based on personal needs and preferences
  • A right to have (and express) one’s own feelings and opinions without fear of recrimination

In my experience, the need to create psycho-emotionally safe environments for young people is as important, if not more so, than efforts to create physically safe environments. Young people are often not aware of physical danger until they are injured, but they are always aware of how they feel, even if they don’t always understand their feelings. Young people who feel safe are better able to become partners in creating and maintaining physically safe environments, and they will also feel less need to rely on protective behaviors to keep themselves safe. By creating environments that focus on the psycho-emotional safety of young people, we greatly increase the physical safety of our youth.

Bio:

JT (Jerry) Fest is a youth advocate, consultant, and trainer specializing in the Positive Youth Development approach, Trauma-Informed Care, and programs for homeless young people, and is the author of Street Culture 2.0: An Epistemology of Street-dependent Youth, and other works.

 

The Public Health Crisis of Family Homelessness

Ellen L. Bassuk, M.D., President, Bassuk Center

 Family homelessness has emerged as a public health crisis with no ready solution. Although this problem was negligible in the 80’s, families experiencing homelessness now comprise 36% of the overall homeless population—with more than 50% of the children less than 6 years old. Both mothers and children are getting younger and lengths of stay in the shelters are climbing, intensifying the crisis.  The lack of affordable housing, scarcity of permanent housing vouchers, and wage stagnation are significant barriers that fail to stem the tide. Combined with the divisive and mean-spirited mood in our nation, and the lack of attention to extremely poor families, we are facing a significant challenge.

After 30 years of research and field experience we know how to mitigate this grave social problem, but resources are lacking and attention to this problem is minimal. Permanent affordable housing combined with services and supports can help most families stabilize in  housing. However, controversy remains about the role of services in the solution.

The accumulating evidence from the CDC over multiple decades have convincingly documented the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and explains why children experiencing homelessness need services to grow and thrive. Early research convincingly indicated how ACEs lead to serious health and mental health outcomes as these children grow into adolescence and adulthood. ACEs include physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; physical and emotional neglect; domestic violence, household mental illness; household substance use; family separation/divorce and an incarcerated family member. Mothers with high ACEs tend to have children with high Aces. Leading to multigenerational difficulties.

Many poor children as well as those experiencing homelessness have high rates of ACEs.  Four or more ACE’s are associated with twice the rate of cancer, heart disease and stroke, and four times the rate of respiratory disease when they become adults.  They also have greatly elevated rates of alcohol abuse, suicide attempts, and homelessness.

Early intervention programs, such as those offered by Bright Horizons, can moderate and reverse these effects. These programs must be brought into the shelters to protect young children growing up in these environments. Various steps can be taken immediately to address the needs of these children: comprehensive assessments; training of shelter staff about the developmental needs of children and organizational trauma-informed care; and parenting supports adapted from the evidence-based “home visiting” models.

The newly formed nonprofit, The Bassuk Center on Homeless and Vulnerable Children & Youth, (www.bassukenter.org) has broad ranging experience in working with shelter providers to make this a reality.  Even without the relative availability of affordable housing, we can bring necessary services into the shelters to protect these young children by preventing changes in brain architecture and ensure that they grow and thrive. We encourage Bright Horizons to work with us to mitigate this tragic social problem.

 

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and connect

Ileen Schwartz-Henderson, National Director of Bright Spaces

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and to be grateful for our health, our family and friends, and for all of the good that exists in the world.  (In fact, check out this great article about the scientifically proven benefits of gratitude.) I recently wrote a blog about how we can inspire empathy in our children and in ourselves. I defined empathy as the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and then see their actions from that perspective.

Take the opportunity of this holiday to empathize with someone. I believe it comes down to each of us trying to connect with another person; a confused child in a shelter, a hungry and rough looking man on the street, a child in our class that is unlikable and destructive, a baby on a ventilator who was born crack addicted, a women beaten by a man she loves, and the list can go on. See them in a way that looks deeply into their eyes, looks beyond their clothing, their behavior, and their situation and awakens the humanity that is inside us all.

Make an effort, because it is an effort. Stop and say hello to someone on the street, in an institution, in your neighborhood, or in your family.  Give the gift of your eye contact, your genuine heart-to-heart connection, because that is what will make the difference.  Acknowledge the humanity within another, asking their name, and letting them see that someone cares.

Only you know what you can do, what is in your comfort zone, and how far you are willing to go out of it. I hear a lot of people say that there is so much going wrong that they do not know where to start to make change. Try doing one thing, touching one person, connecting to one life.  It will shake your world and may shake theirs, and in doing so may shake up the way we all approach our lives, our children, and therefore our future.

 

How can we spark empathy in children and in our fellow humans?

Ileen Schwartz-Henderson, National Director of Bright Spaces

As the world seems to be producing more people capable of acts of unimaginable horror, fear-laden discrimination, and callous disrespect for others, it is important to ask this question. Our national persona and the norms we are accepting more and more everyday have an unnerving dystopian quality and need to be addressed intentionally, especially by parents of young children.

It’s is more import than ever for us to remember that our children learn by watching us, by being exposed to difference, and by learning to see the world from multiple perspectives. At the heart of teaching our children to be empathetic and compassionate lies kindness. Daily kindness to our families, to our neighbors, and to strangers can help awaken and nurture the deep human potential for doing good.

Honoring and practicing gratitude each day through family rituals, personal meditation, and community celebrations have the potential to reawaken our essential understanding of how to live a life of compassion. When each person opens their hearts to others’ suffering and takes responsibility for raising children who also have that important quality, we will move toward a more just, sane, and loving world.

For more information on this topic, enjoy this workshop detailing the steps toward raising a child to be the type of leader we so desperately need today.

 

Bright Spaces Program Hosts Experts to Examine Needs of Families Experiencing Homelessness and Trauma

Ileen Schwartz-Henderson, National Director of Bright Spaces

The challenges facing families experiencing trauma include homelessness, substance abuse, mental health issues, and hunger insecurity. Research has shown us these adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have a detrimental effect on these children’s long term health and quality of life.

In this webinar, the Bright Spaces program was delighted to bring together experts in a special webinar to share their research, insights, and experience in this fascinating look at what we know, what we are learning, and what we can do next as we work to support children and families in crisis. Listen to the full webinar here.

Speakers:
Ellen L. Bassuk, M.D., Founder and President of The Bassuk Center on Homeless and Vulnerable Children & Youth;
Janette E. Herbers, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Villanova University; and
Jeff Olivet, President/CEO of the Boston-based Center for Social Innovation,

 

Natural Disasters and Domestic Violence

Ileen Schwartz-Henderson, National Director of Bright Spaces

In the aftermath of natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate, when the trees topple, the power is gone and the water is in short supply, the bond of family becomes even more important. However, for families or individuals who are victims of domestic violence, their infrastructure, the family bond, is crumbling or destroyed. What happens to all of the families struggling with both domestic violence and a natural disaster?

Reading this article Amid Hurricane Chaos, Domestic Abuse Victims Risk Being Overlooked opened my eyes to the difficulties that supportive agencies experience, beyond their own physical recovery, to build the safe network of support so important to create havens for children where they and their parent can grow and thrive.

 

Bright Horizons Supports Long Term Solutions to Hurricane Disasters

Ileen Schwartz-Henderson, National Director of Bright Spaces

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Deciding where and who to donate to after a disaster is a question many ask. This well researched article from Education Week reiterates what we know as educators and advocates for children – that what is most important in supporting children impacted by disaster is the need for long term support. When children don’t receive this support, trauma’s impact continues and can get worse unless we support agencies that commit to following through with long term support after the news headlines stop.

The $51,000 raised by the Bright Horizons Foundation Hurricane Harvey Children’s Fund from Bright Horizons, Bright Horizons employees, and others, will be donated to three organizations who have made firm commitments to staying in the hurricane ravaged community over the long run: Texas Diaper Bank, Save the Children, and All Hands Volunteering.

I am proud to work for a company and be a part of a Foundation that recognizes the deeper long term effects of trauma and is working daily through our Bright Space program, and specifically in our choice of partner agencies, through donating to these inspirational relief efforts.  Read the article here.

 

 Schools Take the Lead in Helping Kids Heal from Disaster Trauma

Ileen Schwartz-Henderson, National Director of Bright Spaces

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I was delighted to learn that Texas schools are taking these important steps forward, providing trauma training for all staff as children return to school after devastation associated with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. This article shows important steps to sending messages of respect for children and their families and understanding how this and other trauma exposure can impact children’s behavior, attitude, and ability to be successful in school. Making school feel like a safe place to have fun and learn will go a long way to creating stronger bonds between the child, the school, the family, and the community.

This article shows a progressive approach to working with school children as they begin the road to recovery and normality. Having trauma informed teachers in our schools should be a baseline so that we never again see the ill-informed and dangerous approach to vulnerable children that is described here as having taken place in New Orleans after Katrina.

See article here.

Take the First Step to Help Children

Ileen Schwartz-Henderson, National Director of Bright Spaces

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Hello! I am Ileen Henderson, and making a difference has always been important to me. As the National Director of Bright Spaces, I have been able to take my passion and knowledge about early childhood development and apply it to the lives of children and families around the United States living in poverty and crisis through the Bright Spaces program.

More than 2.5 million children in America today are reported as homeless; 27,000 entered foster care as a result of housing problems; and 130,000 foster children are unable to reunify with their families because of lack of housing and the problem is growing.

I know I am not alone in my horror at these numbers and their implications. So, I focus on trying to see the impact in the individuals touched through Bright Spaces and the work of caring people taking the time to get involved.

I feel successful when one infant can get out of a stroller to enjoy tummy time; one child can immerse in play and forget the traumas and violence they might have experienced; and when one mother can relax in a rocker and sing to her child safely. I now focus on supporting the volunteers and the agencies filled with dedicated and caring professionals who dig deep and do the challenging work of supporting children and families in crisis day after day.

When the pain is so great that we just want to close our eyes to the overwhelming ferocity of the problems faced by many children in the US and around the world, it is important to instead take just one step forward. Take one step that will lead to other steps. Whatever that first step is for you, take it. You will be glad you did.

 

Trauma-informed Teaching and Design Strategies: A New Paradigm

Ileen Schwartz-Henderson, National Director of Bright Spaces

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You have a new child in your classroom. Her name is Celia, and when you meet her, she averts her eyes. She never speaks in class or to other children, puts her head on her desk during lessons and seems to be off in her own world, unreachable. You have another new student, Max, who is always fighting and disrupts lessons by calling out. It seems like he is always moving his body when he shouldn’t be, and he is often sent home by a frustrated administration. Another student, Maria, seems bright and interested in classroom content, but misses multiple days of school in a row without explanation.

These examples probably do not seem extraordinary to you and I am sure you can think of children like these who you have encountered throughout your career. As a committed early childhood educator, you know your job is to try to reach ‘difficult’ children, provide them with necessary support, and advocate for their opportunity to learn. Unfortunately, children like these can sometimes take away the bulk of your limited available time to work with the whole group of children you are responsible for. As much as you want to reach them, you are frustrated by the extra time they require, the seemingly willful way they resist your help, and the lack of support provided by the school. Read the full article here

 

 

 

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