Tribe launches Early Head Start program
Samuel Semaken is a bundle of energy.
On this particular Wednesday morning, that energy is focused on applying paint to paper. The lesson had started with painting ice cubes before moving to painting paper, and Samuel is loading his canvas with color. Throughout the lesson, Samuel’ sing-song “ha-ha” fills the room.
Samuel, age 2, and his family are participants in the Tribe’s new Early Head Start program. Working with Samuel are Abby Hanna and Vicky Glick, Early Head Start home visitors. And the classroom is a very familiar one for Samuel – his own living room.
Early Head Start serves pregnant mothers, infants and toddlers up to age 3. The home-based program provides support and encouragement for parents to be their child’s primary teacher.
“I love Kenaitze’s Head Start, the people over there,” said Sandi Semaken, Samuel’s mother.
Semaken said her older children attended Head Start’s preschool program and it helped prepare them for school. So, when she heard about the Early Childhood Center’s newest program, she jumped at the opportunity.
“I really wanted that with Samuel, too,” Semaken said of the benefits she sees with Head Start. “You can’t get any better with children than to start them early with education. This is such a positive program.”
A closer connection
Semaken said she’s noticed the change in Samuel just in the four months since home visits started in September. For starters, he’s excited to see Hanna and Glick, instead of hiding around the corner.
“Now we see him glued to the window when we pull up,” Hanna said.
Samuel’s home visitors say that the home-based aspect of the program has allowed them to get to know the family in a way that isn’t possible in a classroom setting, and to tailor an individualized learning plan that fits his specific needs.
“We have a philosophy that parents are a child’s first teacher, and we support them with tools to do that well,” said Glick. “(With home visits) we are able to deeper relationship with parents themselves, and when that trust relationship is built, then you can individualize even more.”
Hanna and Glick say they have seen positive changes in the families they’re working with, not just with the children, but also with their parents.
“There’s a shift in the whole family,” Hanna said.
During their home visit, while Samuel and Glick are painting, Hanna is able to go over some paperwork with Semaken, and discuss ways to address some of Samuel’s challenging behavior.
“They help me with issues he has,” Semaken said. “It’s really about building him as an individual. They come up with so many good ideas.”
Part of what home visitors do is to show parents how to make any activity into a learning opportunity. With Samuel, as the visit moved from painting to playing with oversized dice to rolling balls, he was still identifying numbers and colors, and using words to communicate.
“We use things people have in their home, instead of a bunch of fancy toys that they don’t have,” Hanna said.
The program also uses a gathering space in its Na’ini building office for meet-ups and parenting sessions. For babies, that might just be tummy time while toddlers can work on motor skills or learn a traditional dance or song. Toddlers can also start to develop the social skills they’ll need when they get into a classroom setting, such as sharing with others.
The meet-ups allow parents to reach out to other parents, too, forming an informal support network.
Helping with transitions
Once a child reaches 30 months, Glick said they begin to talk about transitioning, whether it’s to Kenaitze’s Head Start preschool, or a different preschool program in the area. The Early Head Start staff is a part of that process, too.
“We don’t want to give them the tools and then just leave,” Hanna said. “We want to make sure they know how to use those tools, too.”
Hanna said home visitors use some of the same techniques as the preschool staff, so things will seem familiar when a child makes that transition. Home visitors also will accompany a child on their first day or two of preschool, so they see a familiar face.
Semaken said she thinks Early Head Start will help Samuel when he transitions into a classroom setting.
“It will be interesting to see how it goes with him,” Semaken said. “I think the connection he’s got to the school and the teachers, is going to be an asset – building that bridge with his teachers.”
In his home visit, Samuel moves on to jumps worthy of a Native Youth Olympics competition, before things wrap up with an intense game that involves rolling a ball through the legs of a line of chairs. Hanna and Glick are able to talk with Semaken about what will come next for Samuel, and they also ask about things Semaken would like to work on for the next week’s visit.
“We want to make sure he can be successful with where he goes next,” Hanna says.
Information about Early Childhood Center programs, including Early Head Start, Head Start, and the After-School program, can be found at the Early Childhood Center page.