When COVID-19 hit, parents and caregivers suddenly were in charge of their young children’s learning, and they were often on their own.
“Plenty of information and online resources exist, but many caregivers were overwhelmed by sorting through the mountains of options to find high-quality activities that would appeal to their children and have educational value,” says WGBH Education’s Mary Haggerty.
“That’s where we came in,” she says. “As a trusted source of educational, accessible content that is also fun, we knew WGBH Education had a lot to offer Massachusetts families during this challenging time.
"Working with and for marginalized families and educators is what we always do,” says Haggerty. “But this had added purpose.”
Collaborating with the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) and New England Public Media with major funding from the PNC Foundation, the team kept their focus on accessibility.
“We wanted to be sure that families without internet access could obtain these resources just as readily as families with devices and robust internet connection could,” says Haggerty.
Family Fun at Home/Diversión en familia y en casa, a free, 12-week bilingual summer learning initiative for families with children birth through age 8, launched in June. It is available as an online collection of resources and as a print activity guide.
Family Fun is full of entertaining activities with beloved PBS characters. But it is also a carefully curated collection of free videos, online games, learning apps, and hands-on activities drawn from popular WGBH and PBS KIDS brands, such as Arthur, Curious George, PEEP and the Big Wide World, Design Squad, the Ruff Ruffman Show, Molly of Denali and Plum Landing.
“Children recognize these characters—they know and love them and want to spend time with them,” says Haggerty.
The familiar faces have “been a daily companion during the pandemic at home,” said one parent. “This program has opened the children’s worlds to new ideas.”
Activities prompt families to learn and explore indoors and out and cover social and emotional development (such as talking through fears and anxieties) as well as cognitive skills and STEM.
“There’s such a great diversity of activities that are passive, active, alone and together,” said one community leader.
For families with infants and toddlers, WGBH Education teamed up with The Basics, a free text messaging program that sends science-based tips and suggested activities to boost children’s learning and development.
With Massachusetts EEC support, WGBH produced 115,000 copies of the family activity guide, which are being distributed across the state through the Coordinated Family and Community Engagement (CFCE) grantees, resource and referral agencies, and regional offices of the Massachusetts EEC.
As families complete activities, they can fill out a “reward tracker” to become eligible for random drawings that earn $25 gift cards.
“It’s always fun to work towards something,” says Haggerty. “This kind of gamification is energizing for kids and families and a $25 gift card can maybe brighten their day.
“Creating the program brightened the days of the WGBH staff as well,” she says.
“We all knew that we were doing immediate good for Massachusetts families during a very stressful time,” she adds. “We were so grateful to work on it.”