It’s the first day of preschool for three-year-old Musa and he can’t wait to walk into the classroom. While this day marks an exciting new adventure for Musa — and his mom — it was a milestone that didn’t always seem possible.
Like many children across Texas, Musa experienced delays in his speech development and participated in the state’s Early Childhood Intervention services program. He also was a toddler during COVID and that meant days inside the house without playing with children his age or the structure of a classroom. Musa’s mom worried about his tantrums and behavior.
That’s when she found the family playgroup program at Easter Seals Greater Houston. These free group sessions are led by licensed specialists and therapists, and are designed for parents and caregivers to learn practical strategies to support their children’s healthy brain development. The playgroup program also helps families connect with each other as their children engage in activities to build their language and social-emotional skills.
“Participating in the group, he learned that there is a time for everything, to follow the schedule, and put things away and get something else,” Musa’s mom said. “He wasn’t used to that because he had always been at home. It helped me as well in training him. He started understanding you have to put the playdough away, and then start reading the book.”
EHF’s $120,000 grant to Easter Seals Greater Houston doubled the playgroup program’s capacity by expanding it in Montgomery, Liberty, and northern Harris counties. The program is now expected to reach more than 200 children and parents.
This investment is part of EHF’s goal to build the foundation for a healthy life by investing in early childhood relational health. The timing is key, says Dr. Ann Barnes, EHF’s president and CEO. That’s because as the negative effects of the pandemic on early brain development start to become more evident, she says there will likely be growing needs and demands for these playgroups and other similar programs.
Families participate in the Easter Seals Greater Houston playgroup each week for six months as they prepare for their child’s transition out of the Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program, an often-stressful change that involves the conclusion of ECI home visiting services and transition into a school system. In each session, parents receive coaching on responsive parenting practices and children develop skills through experiential learning. Many of the families are enrolled in Medicaid and the majority live in areas with few resources for children and families.
For Musa, preschool has given him a chance to tell others about his love for cars and monster trucks! His mom says she’s grateful for the family group and the skills she and Musa learned.
“He’s talking so much now and it’s so fun to see and hear him talk in sentences,” she says. “He’s made great progress.”
Founded in Houston in 1947, Easter Seals Greater Houston provides a variety of needed services to individuals of all ages with all types of disabilities and their families in the greater Houston area and surrounding counties. It’s the only organization in the Greater Houston area providing comprehensive services to individuals with all types of disabilities and their families.
Serving more than 6,500 children ages 0 to 3 in Greater Houston and Brazos Valley, Easter Seals Greater Houston is the second largest provider of Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) services in the state. Since ECI services are provided in families’ homes, Easter Seals of Greater Houston reaches some of the most vulnerable families who may not otherwise have access to parent education and support that leads to improved health outcomes for their children.