Now Viewing: Early Childhood

Sesame Street Offers Support to Families Coping with Pandemic Stress

Nov 16, 2020, 10:45 AM, Posted by Jeanette Betancourt, Katie Wehr

Navigating the holidays amid a pandemic is stressful. Sesame Street in Communities is offering support to help families cope with both common and new challenges.

Sesame Street Photo Credit: Sesame Workshop / Zach Hyman

Both of us, like many in America, are feeling anxious and unsure about what the upcoming holidays will look like for families. It’s difficult to know how to prepare or talk about this, and really all that is going on, with the young children in our lives.

Throughout this year our kids have continuously faced several changes. Suddenly their routines and schedules are different. Many are not seeing friends, family, teachers, and classmates in person as often or at all. They miss what felt normal and comfortable and they have all sorts of questions about what is happening and why. They struggle with what to do with all the “big feelings” they are experiencing.

They can also sense increased stress that the adults in their lives are facing. Adults are juggling care for their children, often adding homeschool teacher or “videochat technical support wizard” to already increased workloads. Those who are teachers, work in health care, or have other “essential” positions face significant danger and stress in their jobs every day. Others have lost jobs or are trying to protect or care for aging parents during a pandemic. Through all of this uncertainty and loss, parents and caregivers need ways to care for themselves, and children need to know they are going to be safe.

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Research Shows the Importance and Paradox of Early Childhood Care and Education

Oct 8, 2020, 10:30 AM, Posted by Krista Scott, Tina Kauh

Dependable child care is critical for healthy development—and for the nation to return to work. However, costs are often unaffordable even while many child-care workers are not making a living wage. Ultimately, the entire nation faces the consequences of a system in crisis.

Young girl coloring in a daycare facility.

While working from home and caring for our families as we wait out the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t always been easy, it certainly is a privilege that we value during these unprecedented times. We’re fortunate that our organization recognizes the importance of families and caregiving. In addition, the nature of our jobs allows us to work remotely and have flexible schedules. This helps us support our families during a global pandemic. Unfortunately, the vast majority of working parents in America today, especially women of color, don’t have this choice.

Instead, as pressure mounts to reopen the country, many working parents face an impossible dilemma. Those without the option to telecommute are forced to return to work while struggling to find safe and affordable child care. Or they must stay at home to care for their children and face financial ruin. This burden falls disproportionately on women of color who are on the frontlines of many essential jobs. Many are also child-care providers who face the monumental feat of juggling their low wage, high risk jobs with caring for their families and themselves in the midst of a pandemic. Ultimately, the entire country faces the consequences of an inequitable childhood care system in deep crisis.

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Listening to Families and Communities to Address Childhood Obesity

Oct 31, 2019, 2:00 PM, Posted by Renee Boynton-Jarrett

Renee Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD, believes that children’s health and well-being are intricately and inextricably connected to their family and community.

Children and their parents participate in a school activity.

When a mother walked into my health clinic five years ago with her 13-year-old daughter, she wanted to know why her daughter had gained a significant amount of weight in a matter of months. She was concerned an underlying medical condition might have caused the sudden spike her daughter’s weight. I was concerned as well. Childhood obesity is an epidemic that affects far too many children and it is linked to other serious, chronic health conditions, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and asthma.

I knew I would run tests and order blood work, but I also wanted to know what factors in her social world could have sparked the weight change. We sat down together to look at her daughter’s growth chart, see when the growth trajectory started to accelerate, and what could have been happening then. “Did anything change in your family? Do you recall anything that happened around that time?”

The mom suddenly realized that the changes started shortly after the girl’s father was incarcerated. That’s information I could not have gotten from a blood test. Nor if I had rattled off recommendations without first sitting down to listen.

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Expert Guidance on What Young Kids Should Drink and Avoid

Sep 19, 2019, 10:00 AM, Posted by Mary Story, Tina Kauh

The nation’s leading health and nutrition organizations have issued evidence-based recommendations for parents, caregivers, health professionals and policymakers.

Young girl drinking from a cup.

“Should I be giving my toddler milk?”

“What’s the difference between fruit juice and a fruit-flavored drink?”

“I thought fat was good for my kids. Why should I switch my 2-year-old to low-fat milk?”

Every day, parents, caregivers, child-care providers and others struggle with questions like these about what kids should drink—and what they shouldn’t. They’re trying to do their best for kids’ health, but it’s not as easy as it may sound.

Ensuring that kids grow up healthy includes paying attention not only to what they eat, but also what they drink, especially during the early years when they are establishing their eating patterns. To do that, parents and caregivers need clear, consistent advice from health professionals about what drinks are healthiest for their kids. And policymakers need guidance so that they can create the strongest policies possible to help all children grow up healthy.

But, faced with an array of product choices and inconsistent messages about what’s healthy and what’s not, it can be challenging to know which beverages kids should drink, especially since recommendations seem to change every few months as kids get older.

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New Sesame Street Tools Help Build Resiliency

Oct 6, 2017, 12:30 AM, Posted by Jeanette Betancourt, Kristin Schubert

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Sesame Street are partnering to help families cope with traumatic experiences and foster nurturing connections between children and the caring adults in their lives.

Big Bird in his nest.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Sesame Workshop share a common vision of giving all children—especially the most vulnerable among us—a strong and healthy start in life. We know that childhood experiences lay the foundation for children to grow into productive and successful adults, and promoting healthy behaviors and supporting families from the very beginning can help kids thrive. But it’s equally important to address challenges that can undermine their healthy development.

Tools to Help Families Cope

That’s why we are proud to announce Sesame Workshop’s first-ever comprehensive initiative to help children cope with adverse childhood experiences. Research tells us that kids who experience trauma—like physical abuse, neglect, divorce, experiencing natural disasters, or witnessing violent acts—are more likely to face serious health issues as an adult. The groundbreaking Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study found as the number of “ACEs” increase for a child, so does the risk for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as alcohol abuse and drug use, obesity, and depression. According to new data, nearly half of children under 18 living in the United States have experienced at least one ACE. And it starts at a young age. Among children under five, 35 percent have experienced at least one ACE, and 12 percent have experienced at least two.

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What It Takes to Bring Healthier School Foods to 31 Million Kids

Sep 7, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Jasmine Hall Ratliff

Building upon the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project was created to ensure students received healthier meals. Nearly seven years later, it’s left an indelible mark on school cafeterias across the country.

Students eating lunch.

Santa Cruz County is part of California’s central coast, a rich agricultural area where locally grown fruits and vegetables often find their way to area schools. But until recently, Del Mar Elementary School had a hard time taking advantage. Outdated equipment and lack of storage meant that produce would quickly lose its freshness and students would lose interest even faster. Three-quarters of Del Mar students qualify for free or reduced-price meals; they need fruits and vegetables the most, but the school wasn’t properly equipped to serve them.

Things finally changed about three years ago, when the school purchased a new serving line, including heated and chilled cabinets to store fresh food at proper temperatures. The fruits and vegetables not only stayed fresh longer, but Del Mar was able to serve them “buffet style,” which made it more visually appealing for kids and easier for them to choose exactly what they wanted.

In a time of tight budgets, most schools don’t exactly have extra money lying around for cafeteria kitchen equipment. So where did Del Mar get the $20,000 it needed for the new serving line? And how did their success story gain national attention?

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Can Learning Social Skills in School Pay Off Beyond the Classroom?

Sep 5, 2017, 1:00 PM, Posted by Mark Greenberg, Tracy Costigan

Social emotional skills can help students set goals for themselves and build positive relationships with peers. They can also lead to long-term societal benefits that extend far beyond the individual child.

Students use an interactive screen to communicate feelings.

At an elementary school in the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin, the school day starts in an unusual way. Before they do anything else, students sit down at a classroom computer and select the face that best matches how they feel that morning.

If they’re feeling upbeat, they pick a green, smiling face. If they’re upset about something, there’s a red sad face. And if they feel somewhere in the middle there’s a yellow neutral face. This exercise helps these students develop self-awareness and emotional management skills. It also helps teachers recognize which students are having a tough day and where they might need help.

Ryan Coffey, a teacher and counselor at the Wisconsin school, calls this simple check-in an incredible tool that “can change the whole day.”

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Boosting A Baby’s Brain Power by Supporting Parents and Caregivers

May 1, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Kristin Schubert

Caring relationships stimulate babies’ brain growth during the most critical years of their development. RWJF and ZERO-TO-THREE are working together to help policymakers hear from families about policies that support them in providing what the latest science tells us all babies and toddlers need.

A woman and a baby stand in front of a mural showing children playing.

Did you know that more than one million new neural connections form every second in the first few years of a child’s life? The science is clear. Our brains grow faster from birth to age three than at any other later point in our lives. A baby’s early experiences and relationships stimulate these neural connections, laying the foundation for emotions, language, behavior, memory, physical movement and more.

That’s some serious brain growth, and a serious task for new parents. Anyone who knows or is already a parent will tell you that nobody does it alone. All families need support in order spend quality time with their babies and surround them with caring relationships and early experiences that will help them thrive in childhood—and for a lifetime.

That’s why ZERO TO THREE and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) launched the Think Babies campaign to help families let policymakers know that the healthy development of infants and toddlers should be a national priority.

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What If All Children Could Attend Preschool?

Jan 3, 2017, 3:00 PM, Posted by Susan Mende, Tara Oakman

In Europe, rich and poor kids alike are enrolling in early care and preschool programs in large numbers. These accomplishments offer us insights for our collective efforts to strengthen early education in the U.S.

Two preschool girls work on a numbers project in a daycare setting.

For the past 18 years, every 4-year-old in Oklahoma has been guaranteed a spot in preschool, for free. These kids are learning their letters, numbers, colors and shapes. They’re also developing arguably more important social and emotional tools--how to make friends, feel empathy, solve problems, manage conflict. These are the kind of building blocks children need to become thriving adults.

Nearly 75 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in Oklahoma’s pre-K program. That's one of the highest participation rates in the country. But if we look across the United States, we see that just 61 percent of kids between the ages of 3 and 6 are enrolled in pre-K, daycare or other formal early childhood education program. 

Why? Of course, many parents stay home or have a friend, neighbor or relative take care of their kid. But a recent Harvard poll of parents with children under the age of five highlights the struggles families face in finding quality, affordable child care. Many parents reported having limited options and said that the cost of child care had caused financial problems. Low-income families were especially likely to report difficulty accessing care.

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Home Visits Work: Let’s Make Them Universal

Nov 14, 2016, 1:31 PM, Posted by Martha Davis

Every family deserves an equal opportunity to build a healthy, nurturing environment that helps their kids thrive. That’s where home visits come in.

A doctor holds an infant during a home visit.

Some of the most fulfilling and valuable experiences of my early career involved working as a home visitor about twenty years ago. I traveled through Philadelphia’s most underserved neighborhoods with a team from the MomMobile, a community-based organization that provides free support and education to families facing the challenges that pregnancy and parenting bring. I’ve personally witnessed the powerful impact home visits have on families, and that’s why I’m so passionate about the role they can play in building a Culture of Health.

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