Participants in Frontiers of Innovation—an effort to use science to inform early learning practices—came together in Seattle this week to share progress on testing four promising ways to support healthy child development. FOI pairs scientists with early learning professionals to co-design and test new strategies to build executive function and address mental health concerns in parents and children. The focus is on testing ideas on a quick cycle: Strategies that work could be taken to scale around the state; strategies that don’t work can be altered and tested again.
“It’s amazing what happens when you connect people who do this [early learning] work and are passionate about it with the scientists, and give them permission to co-create,” said Department of Early Learning Assistant Director for Quality Practice and Professional Growth Juliet Morrison.
The four intervention models currently being tested are:
Filming Interactions to Nurture Development (FIND)
In this model developed at the Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC) at the University of Oregon, coaches videotape adults interacting with children and then show them clips where they are supporting children’s development.
“We look at the film to identify moments where good things are happening,” said Melanie Berry, an OSLC research associate. She added that the program reinforces and strengthens the naturally occurring supportive interactions between young children and adults, so-called “serve and return” interactions that help shape the brain.
Children’s Home Society of Washington (CHS) is one program testing out FIND with some of the families it serves with home visiting.
“Imagine you’re in a situation where you are under investigation for abuse or neglect, and then someone comes in and says, ‘OK, let’s look at what you’re doing right,’” said Jason Gortney, CHS community manager.
Licensed family home child care provider Lorrie Hope, another FIND pilot participant, was trained and has since coached three of the families in her care using FIND. Because she lives in southeast Washington, her training was all done online.
“I have a much stronger relationship with my parents,” she said. “We are more trusting with each other and we have a common language.”
University of California San Francisco research Annmarie Hulette developed the Attachment Vitamins curriculum to help improve caregiver knowledge of important child development issues including executive function and toxic stress. It’s currently being tested by Children’s Home Society and Centralia College.
“Attachment Vitamins is giving us the active ingredients we can take out of the child-parent psychotherapy model and plug into home visiting,” said Gortney. At Centralia College, they are piloting the curriculum in the Teens Entering Education Now (TEEN) program for 14 to 21-year-olds who are pregnant or parenting.
Executive Function Games
“Not every parent and child knows how to play together,” said University of California Berkeley Associate Professor Silvia Bunge, who is working with Childhaven and Centralia College to introduce games that caregivers and children can play together to build cognitive flexibility (the capacity to nimbly switch gears and apply different rules in different settings—for example, children using inside and outside voices in different situations.
At Childhaven, researchers are finding improvement in children’s cognitive flexibility after 10 weeks of playing the specially designed games in their classroom.
“It’s accessible, it’s sustainable—it’s not something that’s overly burdensome,” said Childhaven Vice President of Branch Program Operations Bethany Larsen.
Mindfulness Parenting Program (SEA CAP)
University of Washington Professor of Psychology Liliana Lengua has long studied how income impacts parenting and chld development. She developed the Social and Emotional and Academic Success of Children and Parents (SEA CAP), which helps adults cultivate mindfulness and emotional regulation. This promotes warm interactions between adult and child, and helps the adult learn to “scaffold” learning by guiding children in tasks but stepping out to let the child practice autonomy.
Educational Service District 112 in Vancouver is embedding the mindfulness training in its existing weekly parent-child play group.
“When you practice these skills over time, it becomes easier to access, so when you find yourself in a moment of stress, it’s there for you to use,” said Corina McEntire, ESD 112 professional development manager.