The Mommy and Me Refugee Family Literacy Program in Clarkston, provides English-as-a-second-language classes to refugee women, while their young children attend early childhood education classes. The program’s students come from over a dozen countries around the world who speak over 20 different languages. The program’s team includes ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) teachers, early care and education teachers (many formerly refugees) and dedicated volunteers.
The Refugee Family Literacy Program has been a partner with the Eat. Move. Talk! Program at the Georgia Department of Public Health since its inception. Eat. Move. Talk! aims to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity and language rich conversations for children zero to five years-old in three target communities: Dalton, Clarkston and Valdosta.
The Refugee Family Literacy Program Coordinator, Dana Geller, shared strategies of supporting language rich experiences with refugee families to help create the Eat. Move. Talk! Training.
In 2017, Geller developed a “Healthy Food Experience” where families highlight a fruit or vegetable for the week, develop and cook a recipe for the whole school to try, and have conversations about the chosen food. Moms write it down in their languages to foster an environment that welcomes each family and celebrates the multilingual community. The Healthy Food Experience also includes opportunities for children and moms to handle the food being highlighted. The children paint with asparagus, use vegetable stamps to make place mats and have scientific inquiries about cooked versus raw vegetables. The moms have taste tests and discussion about the vegetables and recipes. The teachers have activities for each age group of children and moms, so that everyone has an opportunity to learn more about the food and build their vocabulary.
“At first the children were reluctant to try the healthy snacks (instead of the goldfish crackers and Cheerios they were used to), but now they expect to have fruits and vegetables as part of their snack time,” shared one former early childhood education teacher.
In addition to the Healthy Food Experience, Geller has worked to improve the music and movement program for the children. She collected kid-friendly songs with directions for movement included in the music. Every morning, the teachers turn on the music, follow the directions, and instruct and inspire the children in movement. The teachers and children use scarves and shakers while grooving to their music.
Farhio Hersi, an early childhood education teacher, shared that the Eat. Move. Talk! Training demonstrates why they interweave movement throughout their day with the children: “Routine is very important for the young children, so we move with our children and repeat the same exercises every day. I have observed the children’s progress because of the repetition and routine.”
The Refugee Family Literacy Program also worked with occupational therapy students to conduct a semester-long project where they map physical activities and how they relate to childhood development. The occupational therapy students created a binder for the school mapping out the activities and spent a daylong session reviewing the contents with the teachers.
Finally, a volunteer for the program brings ballet to their community. Margaret McPherson, a professional ballet dancer and former New York City Rockette, leads children in dance moves, and they are always excited to learn from this special visitor.
Through further support from the Georgia Department of Public Health, Refugee Family Literacy teachers visit families in the home to share more about strategies to increase healthy eating and moving. These home visits have been a wonderful opportunity to talk to the whole family in an informal setting and a way to receive feedback for improvement for the program.
The Refugee Family Literacy Program considers the principles of Eat. Move. Talk! as they plan all events in their program. They chose water instead sugar-sweetened beverages for graduation and end of the year events. They are also planning playground meet ups in the summer to support moms while school is out and get the kids moving.
“We constantly ask ourselves, how about Eat. Move. Talk!? Does what we are planning fit into Eat. Move. Talk!?” shared Geller.
To learn more about Eat. Move. Talk! click here.
To learn more about the Refugee Family Literacy Program click here.