Imagine a child entering kindergarten who has trouble communicating, controlling impulses and paying attention to teachers. Odds are slim that they will make the most of learning opportunities as they grow. Many toddlers are facing this situation today, due to myriad reasons related to poverty and its adversities. With grant support from The Dallas Foundation, a chance for more children to have a strong start in life is possible through the Juega Conmigo (Play With Me) program.
In December, The Dallas Foundation awarded the UT Dallas Center for Children and Families (CCF) a $50,000 grant in support of Juega Conmigo, a 10- to 12-week free program for parents and children ages 3 and under. Designed to foster strong parent- child relationships and children’s growth through semi-structured play sessions, the program currently serves five high-need areas of greater Dallas.
In 2011, CCF started Juega Conmigo at the Dallas Library’s Bachman Lake branch. The Dallas Foundation was the first supporter that enabled development of the program that fosters playful learning interactions between parents and their young children.
“We know that high-quality, early learning today contributes to success in school,” said Brittani Trusty, program officer for The Dallas Foundation, “so it’s important for the foundation to support programs like Juega Conmigo that are making a difference in the lives of young children, which in turn, makes a difference for the DFW region as a whole.”
“As with any grant recipient, we provide grant funding to help organizations implement their programming in the most successful way possible,” she said. “And that’s what we hope for the Center for Children and Families. We also hope that our grants provide help beyond the actual grant dollars by showing our donors and the community that The Dallas Foundation is proud to support effective programs like Juega Conmigo that result in greater school readiness and success.”
Play, especially in the context of supportive relationships with caregivers, promotes children’s learning and language skills and their social skills — all key to school readiness.
“Most of our kids are between 2 and 3 and haven’t been to other programs. Many have limited social skills with peers, and the semi-structured, playful learning activities the program offers provide positive experiences preparing them for school,” said Margaret Owen, Robinson Family Professor and director of the Center for Children and Families. “In our program, they are acquiring early socializing and listening skills, with good support from their parents. We’ve heard from others saying they love having kids from Juega Conmigo because they are ready to learn.”
Adriana Baird, a licensed counselor and developmental specialist, has been with CCF since its inception and was instrumental in developing the Juega Conmigo curriculum as the program expanded. One objective of this grant is to grow the program from serving 499 children and parents to 561 children and parents annually.
The program curriculum also gives parents new tools through weekly guided conversations in the playroom with the program facilitators, including open-ended questions about what is working and what is not working.
“Families tell us this is helpful and grandparents say, ‘Why didn’t I know these things when I was raising my children?’” Baird said. “We are teaching parents that every interaction with their children is building their foundation for life. The parents gain confidence and the support of new friends.”
“We’ve been called a learning laboratory. Parents can apply what they’re learning in the communities where they live. It’s a win-win,” Owen said. The foundation grant will help CCF maintain and grow the program, but Owen said more financial support is needed to expand services in existing and new areas, such as Pleasant Grove and the southern sector where CCF is receiving requests. “We’ve discovered a hunger for this program,” Owen said.
To find out how you can make a difference in changing more children’s lives through Juega Conmigo, visit ccf.utdallas.edu or call 972.883.3938.