Helping Homeless Children Develop Skills

The Search Homeless Organization and UH Downtown are partnering to help homeless children develop strong social and cognitive skills. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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The House of Tiny Treasures is an early childhood development center for homeless children. UH-Downtown Assistant Professor Dr. Kathryn Jenkins has been observing the children at this facility for the past six months.

"They need more time to actually practice playing with other children. They need more opportunity sharing materials, taking turns, listening to other ideas and collaborating for play rather than just simply focusing on this is what I want to do and this is the material I have. Really learning to collaborate and play with other kids."

Many homeless children live in shelters. There's not space to play or interact with other children. Communal living changes how they interact with their peers. So UH-Downtown sought a grant to bring in developmental tools and curriculum for these kids. SEARCH President Laurence Payne says they've invited the university to start a long-term research program at the House of Tiny Treasures.

"I think it will be an endeavor to look at how -- when we talk about enrichment programs for early childhood learning, what does that really entail -- to look at the socio-economic issues related to that, look at each child's individual issues, look at the pedagogia that goes into the teaching and reaching of those young children and to do it in a very thoughtful, systematic way by having university as our base to help us do the research."

The researchers will look at how the children develop during playtime. Jenkins watched the kids over the past six months. New toys and resources are being installed on the playground and Jenkins will compare how the kids respond to the new elements versus how they behaved in the old setting.

"When we look at social play, we're looking at how they interact with other children. And there are developmental markers that will help us to evaluate that just to see that they can share materials and interact with other students during their playtime. And then the cognitive play is specifically how they use materials developmentally -- what are they doing with the materials that they have access to."

About $2,000 worth of play equipment is being installed, including art easels and paints, writing materials and a sand and water table. Jenkins and eventually some graduate students will observe the children in the new playground environment. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...