What is the work that Studer Community Institute does in support of early learning in the community?
One project is the IMPACT Brain Bag, a literacy gift bag for every new mom before she leaves the hospital.
We were fortunate enough to be awarded a grant from IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay Area in 2016. The grant is helping us launch the project, but we are continuing to fundraise to support that project beyond the life of the IMPACT grant.
— The Brain Bag has a copy of “P is For Pelican: The ABCs of Pensacola,” by Anna Theriault, a licensed mental health counselor and Pensacola author. It’s a sweet storybook that we hope parents will read to and later with their children as they grow. The best part is that every letter of the alphabet in the book is tied to a Pensacola landmark. Hopefully, as our little ones grow up, they will start to see these places across the community. When you see them, point out that it’s from the book. It may seem small, but it’s a way to build learning into the things we see every day.
The bag also has a copy of Baby Steps, a baby book that can be personalized, and that helps parents track early brain development. It also has tips and tricks for making play time, naptime, even diaper time a time of learning by talking with your baby. It also has lists of milestones in brain development to look for in the first 1,000 days — the first three years of a child’s life. Those lists are great to take to well-baby visits. You can use them to talk with your doctor about what you see with your baby and what you should look for.
The bag has a binder that lists resources in the community to help you find good learning opportunities for your little one. It has great advice about online and app-based resources for parents that support early learning, as well.
It also has a small toy — a little something to remind parents that the most important thing your baby needs to build her or his brain is time playing with you. Face to face. Not with a screen. Baby brains grow best with facetime with mom.
In all three of Escambia County’s birthing hospitals, the Brain Bag include some teaching points that hospital staff will use to review the bag and give it more meaning. The teaching points stress the importance of early brain development and of the power that parents have, through language, to build a baby’s brain. We rely on our partners at the University of Chicago for help with the content development of this product.
— Another project SCI supports is parent outreach and engagement. We are committed to researching and learning what strategies are in place in the community in terms of parent outreach and how we can support those strategies.
That’s important to us because we want to add value to what the people who have credibility in the community are doing in this space and not duplicate efforts. One strategy we believe we can use to do that is Pop Up Early Learning events.
You may remember those from the Be the Bulb Early Learning Idea contest from 2016. The goal is to give SCI a presence at community centers, events and places where parents with children under 5 might be spending time. There we can share information, tips, advice and strategies about how parents and caregivers can, in the words of our partners at the University of Chicago, “Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns” with their little ones. These would be a way for SCI staff to bring what we know about the importance of parent talk in early brain development to folks.
— A third project we have for this year is supporting strategies that build early learning into the environment — or putting learning under foot. Some projects are large, like the early learning sensory garden that Caldwell and Associates designed for the Bodacious Brew. It uses nature and nature-based play items to encourage children and their parents to learn from the natural world and the environment at large. Miller Caldwell III drew a lot of the inspiration for it from similar projects in Scandinavia.
Another is an Early Learning Plaza that we are working with Miller and his team on use polycarbonate panels that embed learning opportunities with sight words, letters, numbers, shapes, pattern recognition and more into an interactive plaza that parents and children can come back to over and over again to have fun with while they learn.
A smaller project is the design and installation of colorful vinyl placards that use hopscotch boards, jump lines and other similar designs to work learning into playtime. Those placards are intended to be sponsored by individual or businesses and can be installed for a fee that ranges based on size and how long you want the material to last.
They can be placed outside of businesses, in playgrounds, community centers, sidewalks, wherever folks have the time and imagination to think of putting them!