Supporting Early Education at Home is as Easy as Talk, Read, Play
Supporting Early Education at Home is as Easy as Talk, Read, Play

A child’s most important teachers come long before they enter the traditional classroom — parents, grandparents, siblings and caregivers play a vital role in preparing young children for future school success. The development of language and literacy skills begin at birth through everyday interactions and by age five, 90 percent of brain development occurs (Rauch Foundation).

Children from low-income families often lack early interactions that lead to language development including being read to and having access to books in the home. Data shows that children from low-income families are exposed to 30 million fewer words than their higher-income peers before age three (Hart/Risley). This study and others have linked poor early literacy and social skills to academic failure, social and income disparities. Unfortunately, in our community these economic circumstances are a reality for the majority of our children. In the Kansas City metro 54 percent of children are living in low-income households (Annie E. Casey Foundation).

The Children's Campus of Kansas City (CCKC) — a collaboration formed in 2004 to support the health and well-being of children, ages zero to five, and their families aims to change this trend. The partners — The Family Conservancy, Project Eagle, Juniper Gardens Children’s Project — take a holistic approach, providing wraparound services to children at the highest risk of academic failure and their families, and offering access to the resources they need to succeed in school and life.

Early on in the partnership a gap in services was identified — children receiving programming through the partnership were not getting the support they needed from parents and caregivers. In response, the CCKC partners launched the Talk, Read, Play campaign in 2011. The campaign centers on a simple message every parent and caregiver can use to help support a child’s early development — talk, read and play with your child every day.

Talk, Read, Play is a true community effort, one organized and launched by the Children's Campus of Kansas City partners, supported and promoted by countless community organizations and individuals. Since it’s inception, the program has seen many exciting successes.

Talk, Read, Play at TFC
At TFC, we’ve integrated Talk, Read, Play into nearly everything we do — from our intensive model which teaches child care providers to use Talk, Read, Play as an instructional and parent engagement tool, to our home-based Head Start program where it’s used to encourage parents to support child development.

As we work with young children in many early education settings, the TRP message fits perfectly into our agency-wide mission of helping children and families achieve a lifetime of success.

To date, TFC has distributed more than 75,000 Talk, Read, Play materials.

Community Volunteers Step Up in Support
For the past three years, a group of passionate volunteers have been demonstrating the positive impact of generosity while delivering a powerful message to parents and caregivers throughout the Kansas City Metro.

The group, formed by Village Presbyterian Church, has been a driving force since the infancy of the Talk, Read, Play initiative, providing a grant to help kick-start the program in 2012. For this group, the contribution wasn't enough. They wanted a hands-on role.

Over the past three years, they’ve worked to improve literacy in Kansas City — reaching thousands of parents and children across the Kansas City Metro with a simple, powerful message: Talk, Read, Play — with your child every day."

It’s a simple message explains volunteer Marilyn Borel, “You are your child’s first teacher, you can really effect change in this child’s readiness to start school if you simply talk, read and play. You don’t need to have to plan, just do it throughout the day — as you drive to school or at bath time."

You may think the whole idea of talking, reading and playing is common sense, but that’s not always the case. “I’ve had people, you can tell by the look on their face, that have never thought about talking to their infant or toddler," commented volunteer Gail Arther.

The group of consists of about 20 members, who are willing to do whatever it takes. They attend school open houses, conduct classes to demonstrate parent-child activities, provide one-on-one reading sessions through a mentorship program and partner with other churches to delivering books and their important message.

Community Leadership Joins the Movement
In August 2014, TFC collaborated with Mayor Sly James’ office and Turn the Page KC to host a community conversation to garner support for Talk, Read, Play.

At the forum Mayor James commented, “we have to raise the awareness of every parent about the importance of talking with their child, reading with

their child and playing with their child. It’s important for us to remember that everything we do that betters the lives of our children, betters the lives of everyone in our community.”

The successful event gathered over 100 leaders from various sectors of the community and garnered commitments of support from 15 organizations.

“To be done efficiently and economically, a community-wide effort, like the Talk, Read, Play campaign relies on partnerships with organizations already in place working with families,” commented TFC President and CEO Dean Olson.

Additionally, media coverage from Univision, Fox 4, KCUR Public Radio and the Kansas City Star enhanced the Talk, Read, Play reach.

Play Comes to KC
The Family Conservancy, with funding from the Sosland Foundation of Kansas City, worked with Planet Play to bring a series of four Pop-Up Play Labs to Kansas City in 2015.

The four-hour events brought play to children and helped adults who care for them make play a part of everyday life. The events took place at Douglas Heights and Cyrus K. Holliday housing complexes and impacted 179 children and parents.

United Community Services of Johnson County Joins the Effort
In June 2015, United Community Services of Johnson County (UCS) invited TFC President and CEO Dean Olson to share the Talk, Read, Play message with nearly 200 human service professionals at the 2015 Human Service Summit.

The message resonated with the attendees, many of whom work with children and families in unfortunate circumstances every day.

The summit focused on addressing rising poverty rates in Johnson County. According to a report released by UCS, the number of persons who are poor and near poor in Johnson County has more than doubled since 2000.

Talk, Read, Play was adopted as an anti-poverty initiative, and health and human service sector workers were encouraged to promote Talk, Read, Play with clients and stakeholders.

In October of 2015, UCS hosted two screenings of The Raising of America — a documentary series exploring education in America. Following each screening, Talk, Read, Play was discussed.

This December, Dean Olson will accept the UCS Excellence in Community Service Award on behalf of The Family Conservancy. The award recognizes an organization or partnership that has significantly improved the lives of Johnson County residents. The award will be presented at the Annual Meeting which will be held on December 4 for TFC’s Talk, Read, Play initiative and how it supports UCS’ work to reduce poverty and create opportunity in Johnson County.

Talk, Read, Play Receives VISTA Support
In 2015, TFC and Turn the Page KC partnered to hire an AmeriCorps Vista to support Talk, Read, Play. This position, which will become full-time in November, will provide support to and foster relationships with community partners, advocates and volunteers.

Moving Forward
The successful education of a child is no small task, but when families, schools, caregivers and communities work together to support early learning, children are prepared for school, succeed in school and have opportunities for success.

Talk, Read, Play fills a gap in our community and plays a very important role in increasing the likelihood of academic success by bridging the divide between educators and caregivers.

You can help support early education and prepare children for successful, productive futures. Take the pledge to support early learning talking, reading and playing with the young children in your life.