July 18, 2018 / News & Blog

Helping Busy Parents Support Their Kids’ Brain Development

The following post appears in the latest issue of Hand to Hand, ACM’s quarterly journal. 

By Bezos Family Foundation

In today’s time-strapped world full of countless obligations and distractions, parents have their hands full. On any given day, they have to make breakfast, dress their kids, prepare lunch, get them to school or childcare, pick them up again, shop for groceries, cook dinner, bathe them, prepare for bedtime, clean the dishes, and do the laundry—and that’s often just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to attending to these basic needs, parents are exposed to a steady stream of prescriptive, sometimes scary, sometimes conflicting instructions on how to raise their children. They are bombarded with well-meaning, but often beleaguering, advice like, “You must do this or that or your child won’t do well in school, won’t get a good job, or won’t have the skills needed to succeed.” It’s no wonder that parents feel overwhelmed.

And yet, the science around early childhood development is clear. During your child’s earliest years, their brain makes one million neural connections every single second. These first three to five years especially are an opportunity to develop a child’s neurological framework for lifelong learning. Given their hectic daily schedules, are parents supposed to make extra time for “brain-building”?

Vroom, an early learning and brain development initiative, starts from a very simple principle: Parents already have what it takes to be brain-builders. They don’t need extra time, special toys or books to play a proactive role in their child’s early brain development.

About Vroom

Vroom was developed through years of consulting with early learning and brain development experts, parents, and caregivers. Science tells us that children’s first three to five years are crucial to developing a foundation for future learning. Even when babies cannot speak, they are looking, listening, and forming important neural connections. In fact, when we interact with children in this time period, a million neurons fire at once as they observe and listen to their environment.

Vroom’s early goal was to determine how to best support early learning and development by fostering the types of parent/child interactions that help build brain architecture and help ensure that children will have strong and resilient brains. Vroom applies the science, translating complex early learning and development research findings into free tools, tips, and activities that are simple enough to fit into daily routines and are right at parents’ fingertips.

Vroom Tip 1

The simple activity of washing hands in the bathroom is enhanced by a Vroom tip posted on the wall to the right of the sink.

For example, a Vroom tip can turn laundry time into what we term a “brain-building moment” by suggesting that a child help sort clothes by size or color. The scientific background behind this tip is based on research that shows categorizing by letter or number develops a child’s flexible thinking, memory, focus, and self-control—all skills that develop a solid foundation for lifelong learning. So, by connecting a simple task to a fun activity with a child, the child can learn and develop their understanding of the world.

Vroom tips are available to parents and caregivers across many different channels: on the Vroom website, the Vroom app, the Vroom texting program, and in print materials. Vroom creates age-appropriate tips, so a two-year- old and a five-year-old won’t get the same tips. Tips are written in clear, accessible language that celebrates the work parents are already doing to support their children’s growing brains. The tips are also available to parents in both English and Spanish.

Additionally, Vroom’s partnerships with brands such as Baby Box, Goya, Univision, and now the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM), reflect the desire to meet parents where they are. Rather than expecting parents and children to make space for something extra in their already busy lives, Vroom identifies ordinary moments like mealtime or bath time, or visits to places like museums or libraries, as opportunities to engage in valuable, shared brain-building activities.

Vroom’s Partnership with the Association of Children’s Museums

Vroom’s mission to highlight the brain-building opportunities in everyday moments inspired a pilot program in 2015 between Vroom and the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus. “The Children’s Museum and Vroom came together in 2015 and brainstormed the best way to translate the hard-hitting science of Vroom into a physical space; and in this case, an institution dedicated to creating platforms for discovery between parents and children,” said Sarah Brenkert, senior director of education and evaluation at the museum. “We wanted to design a concept that would be simple, yet vibrant and coherent, and one that other institutions could mirror.”

Together, Vroom and the Children’s Museum of Denver reimagined the role institutional spaces can play in supporting families and enhancing the moments they spend together. The goal was to transform underutilized amenities and spaces within the museum, places like bathrooms, water fountains, stairs, lockers, cafés, and hallways, into fun opportunities for brain building. This initial pilot program with Vroom and the Children’s Museum of Denver provided many valuable insights. The lessons from the pilot helped refine the strategy as well as the specific Vroom tips so the tips could be seamlessly integrated into diverse yet universal physical spaces and environments.

“Our partnership with Vroom continues to inform many of the communication decisions we make and the events we create,” Brenkert added. “These all carry the message to parents that they already have what it takes to turn every moment—whether in a museum, at the grocery store, or in the car—into an opportunity to nurture young children’s minds.”

The success of the pilot set the stage for a new partnership with Association of Children’s Museums to apply the lessons learned from the pilot into a set of tools that can easily be deployed and integrated by any children’s museum. Vroom worked with ACM to develop a complete set of easily produced, low-cost resources, including decals and professional training materials tailor-made for children’s museums.

“We know that parents and caregivers can greatly benefit from proactive support to help them understand their children’s development,” said Laura Huerta Migus, executive director of ACM. “Vroom’s resources offer accessible, fun ways to support early childhood development, reflecting children’s museums’ innovative approach to learning. We’re so excited to share Vroom’s resources with the millions of children and families that visit children’s museums every year.” ACM’s role as a thought partner and a conduit for this work has been critical in helping bring Vroom’s vision into focus as well as to scale. Acting as an intermediary for Vroom, ACM will help bring these innovative tools to any interested member museum, no matter their location, size, or budget.

The Future of Vroom

Through valuable partnerships, like this one with ACM, Vroom offers unique opportunities to advance early childhood outcomes by delivering actionable, brain-building messages in ways that easily integrate into parents or caregivers’ busy lives. The partnership will serve as an additional step forward in supporting the Association of Children’s Museums’ vision of fostering a world that honors all children and respects the diverse ways in which they learn and develop. Over time, and with the help of partners like ACM and their member museums, Vroom aims to catalyze the adoption of a common language around brain development—across geographic boundaries and socio-economic divides—so that every parent sees themselves as someone who already has what it takes to be a brain-builder.

The Bezos Family Foundation supports rigorous, inspired learning environments for young people, from birth through high school, to put their education into action. Through investments in research, public awareness and programs, the foundation works to elevate the field of education and improve life outcomes for all children.

To read other articles in the “Brain Research and Children’s Museums” issue of Hand to Hand, subscribe todayACM members also receive both digital and printed complimentary copies of Hand to Hand. ACM members can access their copies through the Digital Resource Library–-contact Membership@ChildrensMuseums.org to gain access if needed. 

ACM members interested in participating in Vroom can apply here