New Directions Early Head Start Focuses on Socialization with Families — with an Emphasis on Mindfulness

New Directions Early Head Start (NDEHS) offer socialization events for families. Normally, these socializations take place in person and are opportunities for parents and children to participate in a planned activity with other families, sharing ideas with parents and observing child development.

More recently, due to COVID-19, just like home visits, socialization events are being done virtually. Home visitors from NDEHS have scheduled a series of socialization opportunities for families, covering a variety of topics (cooking, mindfulness, science, etc.) Each series includes three socialization events led by the same home visitor.

The series started with a focus on mindfulness. Mindfulness practice can reduce stress for both parents and children. People who make mindfulness part of their routine experience less tension, as well as better emotional balance and a greater attention span. Mindfulness also includes intentionally living in the moment and letting go of judgmental feelings. Some people use it as a way to practice gratitude or as a reminder to pause before addressing a stressful situation. For some, it’s helpful in managing anxiety and depression. With children returning to childcare and school, more educators may incorporate mindfulness activities into the classroom routine to help manage stress levels for themselves and the children.

The first session of the NDEHS mindfulness socialization focused on breathing, including a demonstration of belly breathing. Belly breathing taps into the nervous system and signals our body to relax. Children as young as preschool age can learn to use belly breathing to calm themselves. Parents were also shown a variety of age-appropriate mindfulness activities for babies and toddlers, using items typically found around the house. Straws for blowing bubbles into a cup, bubble solution and wands, pinwheels, stuffed animals, and light scarves can all be used to practice controlling breaths. Many of these activities have overlapping benefits that give children language, cognitive, and social-emotional experiences. For example, blowing bubbles for a toddler provides the opportunity to track the bubbles with their eyes, poke the bubbles with their finger, and persist in trying to blow bubbles through the wand on their own. A parent laying a scarf over their head and blowing it to reveal her face turns a mindfulness practice into a cognitive peek-a-boo experience. Placing a stuffed animal on a child’s tummy, while he’s lying on his back, can teach a preschooler belly breathing. When he sees the animal rise and fall with his breath, he knows he’s doing it right.

The next session on mindfulness will focus on incorporating nature and the five senses into mindfulness practices. The third will focus on mindful eating practices, body scanning, and labeling emotions. Participants in the first session have already provided positive feedback. One parent reported practicing belly breathing with the entire family and extending a bubble-blowing activity to include homemade wands from items she found in her kitchen. During this time of connecting virtually with families, it’s good to know that we can continue to serve families and positively impact the growth and development of their children.

We have also started a series on science. The first socialization talked about garden science. We started by reading Lola Plants a Garden in English and Spanish. Then we headed outside and dug six small holes in an empty garden space. We counted as we planted zinnia seeds in each hole, then we covered them up and gave them lots of water. Afterward, we dug up one black-eyed Susan and explained that plants eat and drink with their roots. Our families seemed to enjoy the chance to see how plants grow — and it’s always fun to play in the dirt!

Submitted by:

Amy Harter
Program Coordinator

Contributing Home Visitors: Crystal Wilson and Tom Gamel-McCormick