From left, Christina Morales, Emmarie Heredia, Wenjie Wang, Luzia Manuel and Lizette Monge make up the Family and Friends project team at New Mexico State University’s Glass Family Research Institute for Early Childhood Studies. The project is funded by the Brindle Foundation. | NMSU photo by Josh Bachman
Early last year, the newly founded Glass Family Research Institute for Early Childhood Studies at New Mexico State University (NMSU) planned one of its first projects – providing culturally relevant activities for children.
But after the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, finding participants for the project proved difficult for the team, which consists of Wenjie Wang, a post doctoral researcher in the College of Health, Education and Social Transformation, two master teachers who focus on creating the activities for families with toddlers, and two student assistants from NMSU’s teacher education programs.
Due to the team’s strong collaborative efforts, however, they were able to quickly pivot the project to include partnering with local community agencies and reaching out to families via social media.
Now, the institute’s Family and Friends project, funded by the Brindle Foundation, is attracting dozens of families throughout Doña Ana County who are given activity packets that encourage cultural engagement. The project is slated to end in early December, but could potentially be extended through early next year.
Wang said the institute’s team is hoping to gather information on whether families feel their toddlers’ knowledge grew after participating in the activities, and whether overall their cultural understanding deepened.
“We try to focus on different developmental areas of toddlers, and provide families with songs and stories geared towards science or sensory development, and incorporate those elements tying it back to different cultures,” said Lizette Monge, early childhood educator at the NMSU School for Young Children.
Christina Morales, also an early childhood educator, added, “Most of the activities focus on toddlers, but some might be more challenging depending on their level. We’ve had food items, suncatchers, activities that took inspiration from a recent holiday, but we always took it back to their culture and how the activity can relate with the culture. For example, we had a science experiment that involved pepper and soap, and the activity asked what spices are used in their culture.”
Wang said the activities help raise awareness of diversity and community knowledge, while promoting learning development among children.
“We try to include questions that are very important and lead parents to have these conversations with their children,” Wang said. “Cultural engagement is important, especially during COVID, to update our understanding of what is culturally relevant.”
To distribute the activities, the team has collaborated with the Kids Can Boom Box program, relied on community events like the Hatch Literacy Fair and the City of Sunland Park’s National Night Out event, and partnered with organizations such as Ngage New Mexico, Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico, Jardin de los Niños, La Clinica De Familia and Tresco. They’ve also utilized Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to get the word out.
“We’ve had a good response on Facebook and Instagram, and we’ve gotten more phone calls from the daycare pamphlets we’ve distributed,” said Luzia Manuel, a student assistant on the team and a secondary education major at NMSU. Emmarie Heredia is the team’s other student assistant, and is an early childhood education major.
Feedback from families has also shaped the kinds of activities the team offers, such as creating flyers and instructions in both English and Spanish.
“We’ve finally reached the point where we’re reaching 300 families, and that’s with only five members of our team,” Wang said. “I’m just so glad and so proud of our team for what we’ve been able to achieve.”
For more information about the Family and Friends project, email email@example.com. The project can also be found on Twitter at @AggiesTiny, Instagram at tiny_aggies, and Facebook under Tiny Aggies.