With Jugamos Juntos, Enseña por México is Helping Parents and Caregivers Develop a Meaningful Bond With Their Children
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The role of children in society has been historically overlooked and underrated. This has allowed for an authoritarian and adult-centered parenting style to be normalized in many places around the globe. In Mexico the adult-centered vision is clearly shown by the fact that only 0.6 of the GDP is invested in early childhood education, protection, and care; while, at the same time, Mexico holds the second place in Latin America for child abandonment and the first worldwide for child abuse.
These damaging patterns are visible signs of an adult-centered society that continues to regard children as individuals with limited cognitive skills who can, and should, be restrained because of their age. This perception of childhood often puts children in situations where they experience toxic stress, which according to research done by Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child “can weaken the architecture of the developing brain, with long-term consequences for learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health.”
At Enseña por México we firmly believe that it is of the utmost importance to redefine the perception of childhood and children's role in society so that adults acknowledge children as subjects of law, whose rights must be guaranteed and protected. Not guaranteeing and protecting children's rights now will, in the medium and long term, continue to create repercussions in the educational and social arenas that, in the near future, could become unmanageable, such as increased violence, reduced literacy levels, and an increase in mental disorders in young children, among others.
Enseña por México is a strong advocate for children's rights protection. Additionally, at Enseña por México we hold as a moral responsibility listening to children and giving them back the voice and agency that have been taken away throughout history. This is why we developed the Jugamos Juntos (We Play Together) project with the support of the Aceleradora de Innovacion en la Primera Infancia-U-ERRE and Frontiers of Innovation R&D platform of Harvard's Center on the Developing Child. Jugamos Juntos is a science-based innovation that aims to strengthen the socio-emotional abilities of caregivers so that they acquire nurturing care strategies that minimize the probability of children experiencing toxic stress for a long period of time.
Through Enseña por México´s fellows’ experiences as leaders within their communities we have learned that systemic change can only be catalyzed by individual transformation and moving towards collective change. This learning is supported by Otto Scharmer in his Theory of the U which mentions that it is necessary to go through a disruptive self-awareness process in order to create collective change. We based the principles of the Jugamos Juntos program on this theory: 1) Caring for the Caregiver (the perception the adult has of him/herself); 2) The Caring Adult (the image the adult shows to the child); and 3.) Family Play (the image of the child in the adult).
One of Enseña por México´s main questions in the design stage of Jugamos Juntos was how to reach a large number of caregivers from the communities fellows are currently working in. We foresaw this as a challenge since in previous projects families' schedules prevented caregivers from attending recurrent sessions. To tackle this problem, a program in which caregivers could participate without having to attend many sessions was created. The lockdown due to COVID 19 gave us the opportunity to implement a hybrid program with synchronous sessions (happening at a set time and date in real time) and asynchronous learning experiences (happening within a time frame where caregivers work with the resources provided). We would have never been able to foresee that the need to move to distant learning due to the lockdown would allow us to reach a larger group of families than the one we had initially planned.
Currently Jugamos Juntos is a 10-week program in which families are part of a group led by a fellow. The fellow guides the families and follows their learning process through synchronous sessions, four in total, every three weeks. In these sessions, experiences sharing among the caregivers are generated and spaces are provided for family play to boost the interaction and communication between the caregiver and children. In addition, families are sent asynchronous resources via Whatsapp, including informative video or audio capsules and infographics and games (related to selfcare, communication and positive parenting) to promote meaningful interactions between the caregivers and children. This hybrid model supports the families´ participation in the program since it is flexible enough that it can be adapted to each family's times and needs. Additionally, having the topics of the program presented collectively in a playful and attractive way in asynchronous (via WhatsApp) and synchronous (video call or face-to-face sessions) spaces creates a connection among families and caregivers. This connection promotes a collective narrative within the community in favor of children once the adults start questioning the harm that is generated towards children when asymmetric power relations are established.
For the Early Childhood team at Enseña por México, Jugamos Juntos has been a thrilling experience, full of new discoveries and invaluable lessons. The most important one is the realization that, to change the attitudes of adults towards children, it is essential to challenge the adults' beliefs and mindsets regarding what a child is and the significance of childhood. Adults should be made to question the role of the adult/caregiver in children's upbringing to help them break any negative patterns that they experienced and are familiar with to avoid repeating them with the children in their lives. We are now more certain than ever, based on the evidence collected, that the aforementioned strategy will bring about better learning conditions offered to children at home and at school.
As mentioned above, the rigorous research process that we have developed for this program has allowed us to generate evidence that is regularly analyzed in order to make evidence-based decisions when making any adjustments. This has ensured that each new iteration of the program is a more accurate and successful one. We expect that, by the second semester of 2022, we will begin to scale the program outside of Enseña por México through the training of new facilitators and by sharing the program's implementation manual.
Our hope is that Jugamos Juntos becomes a program that produces a community of childhood advocates who generate social movements to defend and guarantee children's rights.