NMSU early childhood institute provides fun, culturally-relevant activities for toddlers

El Paso News

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)

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (KTSM) – The early childhood institute at NMSU planned one of its first projects early last year—providing culturally relevant activities for children. Although the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, the organization’s efforts persisted.

The newly founded Glass Family Research Institute for Early Childhood Studies at New Mexico State University experienced consists of post doctoral researcher in the College of Health, Education, and Social Transformation, Wenjie Wang. The organization also consists of two master teachers, Christina Morales and Lizette Monge, who focus on creating the activities for families with toddlers, and two student assistants, Luiza Manuel and Emmarie Heredia, from NMSU’s teacher education programs.

The institute experienced some difficulty finding participants that would be willing to contribute to the project shortly after COVID-19 broke out.

However, due to the team’s strong collaborative efforts, 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.

The Family and Friends project team at New Mexico State University’s Glass Family Research Institute for Early Childhood Studies participated in the City of Sunland Park’s National Night Out in August. At the event, the team hosted an activity that focused on cultural relevance for children attending. (Courtesy photo)

Wang said the institute’s team plans to gather information on whether families feel their toddlers’ knowledge grew after participating in the activities, and whether their cultural understanding deepened, overall.

“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,” Monge said.

Morales 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 Manuel, one of the two student assistants on the NMSU childhood institute.

Feedback from families has also shaped the kinds of activities the team offers, such as creating flyers and instructions in both English and Spanish, NMSU officials said.

“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 tinyaggies@nmsu.edu. The project can aso be contacted on Twitter at @AggiesTiny, Instagram at @tiny_aggies, and Facebook under “Tiny Aggies”.

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