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Lessons Learnt- Supporting Mothers And Raising Toddlers (SMART)

MMC piloted an innovative program titled SMART (Supporting Mothers and Raising Toddlers) with over 70 refugee, newcomer and indigenous families in Canada. The program targeted mothers of children aged 18 – 36 months. The programme was inspired by a play based learning programme run in Germany by IMPULS for the same age group named Opstapje.

Canada has welcomed refugees and immigrants in large numbers over the past years and this trend is likely to continue. Once in Canada, families find it difficult to navigate their new life due to struggles in settlement, limited official language skills, low resources and lack of awareness about the local values and culture amongst other factors. In such situations it is exceptionally difficult for parents, especially mothers to engage in activities to support their child in settling down in their new life. Most pre-school or early learning programs have costs associated with them and require parents to travel to where the activities are carried out. The settlement journey and the initial struggle associated with it becomes more stressful for parents, especially mothers when their children are unable to settle or are in need of support which parents (mothers) are unable to provide for any reason.

SMART took early learning and positive engagement to the homes of families. Home visitors were former mothers in the HIPPY program and were able to relate to the circumstances of the mothers they supported. Mothers received capacity building support from home visitors through a role play methodology. SMART equipped mothers with tools and skills to engage with their children through a structured play based approach using 24 activities, 6 high quality toys and 11 books. SMART broke the cycle of isolation for mothers by linking them to other mothers in similar circumstances as them and with children in a similar age group. This supported the families to provide a healthy start to their children as they settled into their lives in Canada.

SMART delivered the following key results:

→Mothers and children feel closer to each other facilitated by the time they spent together doing SMART activities

→Mothers feel more confident as a parent in being able to foster a healthy learning environment for their child and the child  is more confident in expressing him/herself

→Mothers have peers and/or support mechanism at communal level enabling them to discuss activities undertaken with their children or other issues.

Our data shows various positive outcomes of the program at both mother and child level.

Mother Level Outcomes:

Mothers appreciated the program for teaching them the skills to engage their kids effectively through play. Mothers felt that despite kids having some toys, they did not have the capacity to engage with children creatively. Viewing play as learning and using it to catalyze skill building in children was new to mothers. SMART enabled mothers to take part in play with children which led to increased bonding and individual attention to children.

Child Level Outcomes:

Despite the program being just 13 weeks long, there were distinct observations of how children improved due to getting their mother’s individual attention and engaging in SMART activities. The change in children was noticed by staff during home visits and/or group meetings and/or reported to HVs by parents (mothers).

SMART pilot confirmed the need of effectively engaging children between 18 months and 36 months for mothers and families to settle more effectively in Canada. Based on the encouraging feedback from sites and families MMC is developing SMART as a year long 30-week standalone program which will be available to interested partners for roll out in fall 2020.

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