TUBA CITY, Ariz. - Participants at the First Things First Navajo Nation Parent and Caregiver Workshop earlier this month danced, sang and made toys all in the name of creating a stimulating learning environment for their children.
Starting at birth, kids are learning - through everything they see and experience. And their imaginations are running wild. As almost every parent knows, you can spend a lot of money on a child's toy and have them spend more time playing with the box or packaging instead. But, to a child a cardboard box isn't just a box. It's a house, a car, or as Tuba City High School (TCHS) students re-imagined, a city.
First Things First Navajo Nation Regional Partnership Council put on the workshop because of its commitment in partnering with parents to give children the tools they need for success in grade school and beyond.
About 75 caregivers attended the workshop, which the regional council hopes to make an annual event. According to organizers, most parents and grandparents said they learned something new about early childhood development and techniques they plan to use in the future with their babies, toddlers and preschoolers.
During the Learning and Teaching with Puppets session, young adults studying to become early educators demonstrated how to create a puppet show stage out of boxes.
Dr. Maria Goatcher, TCHS early childhood teacher, spoke about the benefits of using puppets in the home. Puppets can promote language development and demonstrate cultural awareness. One grandparent who attended the session said she will use puppets to tell her grandchildren traditional Navajo stories.
Another highlight of the workshop was the Understanding How Young Children Learn session. Organizers asked participants to scour through a box of everyday household items and identify how things like empty coffee cans, socks or egg cartons could become toys.
This task was all too familiar for local parent Nick Kinney. He enthusiastically demonstrated how his 4-year-old son plays with a paper towel roll.
"He bangs it and sings pow-wow songs or uses it as a telescope to see the stars," Kinney said.
In her keynote address, Tuba City pediatrician Dr. Miran Song encouraged reading to young children daily because it stimulates imaginative play and makes a child's mind work. Since research shows that 80 to 90 percent of a child's brain develops by the time they are 5 years old, it's no surprise that reading is the number one way to help young kids learn.
Other sessions included The Power of Play in Social Emotional Development, Let's Put a Rainbow on Your Plate, Oral Health for Me and Mine with a general lunch session focused on Understanding Challenging Behavior in Young Children.
First Things First is a voter-created, statewide organization that pays for early education and health programs to help kids be successful once they enter kindergarten. Local councils staffed by community volunteers make decisions about how money is spent. More information is available at azftf.gov.