HIPPY: Supporting Settlement and Early Learning – One Home Visit at a Time
Yusra Qadir, VP Programs and Advocacy, the Mothers Matter Centre Doua Amoura, HIPPY and SMART Manager, DIVERSEcity Community Resource Society Martha Woldeyesus, Home Visitor, DIVERSEcity Community Resource Society
I always felt that a child’s uninhibited smile, a spontaneous chuckle, or the wonder in their widening eyes as they discover something new are amongst the most powerful sights to behold. Powerful because they are ‘on-job training’ for the little ones, as their minds and bodies set foundation stones of how they will act, react, and learn as they grow. As a mother, I tried to collect those moments because they made me feel confident and successful. I felt that I was doing something right – right by me, and right by my child.
I saw all three (the smile, the chuckle, the wonder) at a supervised HIPPY home visit to the home of a newcomer Eritrean family in Burnaby.
HIPPY is a home visitation based program for mothers of children aged 3 to 5. A Home Visitor with lived experience of being new in Canada, settling here, and who can often speak the first language of the family visits the family’s home for an hour each week. She role plays the HIPPY curriculum with the mother. Each week’s curriculum has 5 activities – one for each day of the week. Mothers are expected to spend 15 to 20 minutes per day with their child to engage them through HIPPY activities throughout the week. This builds the mother’s confidence and restores parental agency as she starts leading meaningful activities with her child. It provides structure and routine for the child – both of which are critical for early learning and child development.
The Home Visitor lends a listening ear to the mother, she is the mother’s window to the outside world. She connects the mother to other essential services and helps her build community connections. For a newcomer mother, the home visitor is a trustworthy friend in the new and unknown world that she finds herself in (Canada).
“She enjoyed making this craft with paper and we were able to do all the activities from last week,”says Winta as she shows Martha (her HIPPY Home Visitor) a paper chain made with tens of hand shaped cut-outs glued together. As Martha appreciates the paper chain, the room we sat in further brightens with the uninhibited smile and immense pride on Eldana’s face.
Martha then delivers the current week’s curriculum to Winta. They role play the literacy, maths, and science activities and finally reach the motor activity. The activity is interesting as it requires cutting out pictures of animals (frog, rabbit, bear etc) and then pretending to walk like them. I noticed that while the activities are for children and the role play with the mother aims to prepare her well for delivering the activity to the child, Winta is enjoying participating and acting out in the activities. We hear Eldana chuckle and imitate as Martha and Winta role play how to leap like a frog, hop like and bunny and walk like a bear. “The child learns a lot but the mother also picks up many English words through the curriculum and participation in the program,”says Martha. "Eldana always expects me to bring new curriculum to her mom every week, and she knows the weekly routine. She always sits beside us excitedly while I deliver the curriculum to her mom, and she needs extra activities, especially motor activities."
“The role play gives mothers a chance to unwind and give in to the child that lives inside all of us,”
says Doua Amoura, the manager for the HIPPY program at DIVERSEcity Community Resource Society, as we reflect on the home visit afterwards. “This is why the weekly training for Home Visitors is so important – it enables them to practice with each other and get comfortable with the language in the curriculum so they can deliver the curriculum to the mothers with confidence.”
Each HIPPY weekly packet involves reading a book. The home visit we observed involved reading “Music from the Sky." In the book, a grandparent teaches their grandchild how to make a flute from a wooden branch. Eldana’s eyes widen with wonder as she sees Martha show her mother how to ‘play’ a flute made from cardboard. She is intrigued by a demo wind chime made from a bubble blower and old keys which Martha brought to help them visualize the wind chime they will make that week.
Once the home visit is complete, Martha asks Winta if she has any questions and reminds her about the HIPPY graduation that is coming up – to celebrate all the HIPPY families’ hard work throughout the year. In prior home visits, Martha would use this time to remind Winta about upcoming HIPPY group meetings or other community events taking place. HIPPY group meetings bring families together to socialize and learn about topics of interest to the parents like importance of vaccinations, positive disciplining, financial literacy etc.
Families find friendship and connection at these meetings, which catalyzes their settlement process.
“This program has given me confidence. It has helped me understand my daughter better. It has helped me meet other families like us. I really appreciate Martha’s support and I just want to thank you. I wish everybody can get a program like HIPPY for them, and for their children," says Winta, with the conviction of a mother who is navigating settlement, but knows she is doing the best that she can in raising her child right - right by her, and right by her child.