On Wednesday, September 12, members of the Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) gathered to learn more about the evolution of Play To Learn, part of the Success By 6 program that works to coach parents of vulnerable young children on school readiness at accessible neighborhood locations.
“The initial pilot program was funded by the WLC, so we wanted to show them how that investment had grown,” said Leah Meunier, Manager of Donor Engagement. “Thanks to the WLC’s seed money along with a generous gift from Samsung Austin Semiconductor and strong partnerships with Austin Public Libraries, KLRU and The University of Texas at Austin, we’re making a targeted, measurable difference in the lives of young children.”
The current version of Play To Learn addresses the needs and barriers identified through extensive UWATX research:
- Accessible neighborhood locations make it easy for parents to get to the program – removing barriers for parents to participate
- Instruction focuses on developing fine motor skills, problem solving and communication – areas where research shows children are falling behind
The course includes eight two-hour classes with curriculum developed by UWATX. The goal is to provide a variety of tools for parents to engage their children.
“Each class starts with healthy snacks as an opportunity to talk about nutrition,” said Kaley Horton, who manages the project. “Most of our time is spent with an activity – from art to blocks to other games – that teaches a skill, and these vary by week. We also showcase appropriate PBS clips and provide a book and handouts to take home to reinforce whatever skills we focused on. We use every minute of the class so we can maximize learning opportunities, which is exactly what we’re teaching parents to do at home.”
Each week, parents are also introduced to an app on the Samsung Galaxy tablet that further reinforces the skills they are learning.
“It’s important to actually show the app and get parents comfortable with it,” said Horton. “Smart technology is becoming a requirement for school and work, so working with the tablets helps both parents and children build vital digital literacy skills.”
Parents can take home the tablet when they successfully complete the course. If they continue to go to the library twice a month, UWATX will pay for the data plan.
“We’re using the tablet as an incentive to encourage parents to use local community resources,” said Horton. “We even negotiated more bilingual story times at libraries so parents and children have even more services available.”
Early results show the program is being received well: parents speak highly of the education they’re receiving and 93 percent of those who start the program complete it.
“I was so pleased to hear more about the success of the program,” said Andrea Moore Stover, Attorney at Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody, PC and WLC member. “It really brought home the impact of Success By 6 and what the program means to Austin families. Ensuring that children of all backgrounds have the ability to be school-ready is so important, and United Way is making real progress in accomplishing that goal.”
UWATX just completed the second of four sessions of the Play To Learn project. In all, nearly 200 families will benefit from the service this year alone.