Childhood education and care never ceases, especially during a pandemic.
On Aug. 10, the Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD) launched Moments Together, a campaign intended to provide intellectual and developmental stimulus to children under five as well as support to their caregivers through free and easily accessible online resources.
The campaign was adapted from the United Way of Central New Mexico and designed by the Early Literacy Strategy Group in collaboration with the University of New Mexico’s Family Development Program, MediaDesk and New Mexico PBS.
Moments Together is the department’s first campaign and centers around the knowledge that a large portion of children’s brains are fully developed by the time they are three years old. Therefore, the duty falls on their caregivers to ensure that those first three years of life are a positive influence on a child’s growth.
“If that’s the case, and if kids are always learning and taking messages from their surroundings, then what kinds of messages do we want to convey?” said Matt Bieber, the ECECD’s director of communications.
Bieber emphasized that simple activities — such as talking, smiling, singing and dancing — aren’t incidental placeholders inserted between more meaningful daily events; rather, they are at the core of human development.
Ramon Owens, a retired Navy veteran with four children (two of them under the age of five), said the campaign launch is timely since the future of the state’s child education remains uncertain.
“Children need every advantage they can to develop in New Mexico. The education system is one of the worst in the country, and I am for anything to advance my children,” Owens said. “(The campaign is) even more relevant in this COVID-19 era. We have no idea what the future of education holds in this climate.”
Since the pandemic began, parents and caregivers across the state have found themselves cloistered with their children, beginning with the initial quarantine measures and continuing with the recent hasty adoption of online schooling.
While this has deprived children of interactions with their peers and the novel stimuli that come with an in-person educational environment, Bieber said that quarantine provides parents with a new opportunity: to devote more time to their child’s brain development. Moments Together aims to accomplish this feat from the comfort of a parent’s own laptop.
“As a parent, I felt some anxiety about my expanded role. I realized I wasn’t just filling in time,” Bieber said. “I took a lot of personal consolation and confidence from this campaign.”
Christine Johnson, a UNM student with a four-year-old son, said having to play an active role in a child’s education while needing to attend to work and studies can be a difficult balance.
“Further, kids are not getting to interact with their peers, which is a huge part of the development and overall experience kids typically have at school,” Johnson said.
The campaign’s online platform includes brief explanations about the developing scientific research around a child’s mental and emotional growth in their early years and how that development is influenced by daily activity. The website recommends productive exercises, such as snuggling and storytelling, to implement throughout the day while also containing links to similar informational sites.
Bieber especially recommends the “7 Essential Life Skills” page, because “these resources help me articulate some of my own highest hopes for my daughter’s development — and I suspect other parents will feel similarly.”
Moments Together also provides animated educational videos on their YouTube channel, alongside tailored tips you can receive directly to your phone by texting PLAY to 274-448. ECECD is currently in the process of distributing brochures and merchandise — such as mugs — to libraries and public offices for parents to take home.
Bieber spoke to the importance of the campaign’s resources being free for all caregivers, emphasizing the ease of use as breaking down barriers to stimulating development.
“We as a team talked to parents about their needs and what they wanted to learn, and we realized that every time you create a barrier, you will have less uptake,” Bieber said.
He also cited the state’s economic challenges as further motivation to support all families unquestionably, saying that every group can grow as parents, and free support to families with challenging circumstances is critical.
The intent of Moments Together is to empower parents to aid in their child’s development during a time in which outside surroundings are limited.
“It’s not just filling a gap; it’s reminding folks of their strengths,” Bieber said. “We know there are enormous strengths across all care-giving communities, and our job is to recognize, appreciate and call upon those strengths.”
Beatrice Nisoli is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BeatriceNisoli