Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Parents and caregivers are a child’s favorite plaything, and the more they snuggle, sing and talk with caring elders, the more their brains develop into well-adjusted engines that fuel growth and success in life.
That’s the central message of a fresh, statewide campaign by the newly launched Early Childhood Education and Care Department to provide fun, easy ways for adults to make the most of their moments together with children under 5. That’s when brain development is in its prime as youngsters absorb the wonders around them.
The new “Moments Together” campaign, which debuted in August, is gaining national recognition as a winning model for supporting, inspiring and informing parents with easy tips and free resources to embrace the everyday moments they already share with their young children as foundations for early childhood growth and development.
Albuquerque-based creative communications agency MediaDesk hit gold in October for its role in the campaign at the 16th annual Davey Awards, an international celebration by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts sponsored by such media giants as Disney, Microsoft, MTV, Yahoo and others. MediaDesk spearheaded the campaign’s creation in partnership with New Mexico PBS, the University of New Mexico Family Development Program and United Way of Central New Mexico.
“New Mexico has placed meaningful investment in raising the bar for early childhood education across the state,” MediaDesk CEO Jose Viramontes told the Journal. “MediaDesk is proud to be part of this important effort, and our home state to be recognized on a national scale for making a difference.”
A statewide TV, radio and billboard blitz is now underway to encourage parents and caregivers to visit the Moments Together website at momentsnm.org, where animated characters and videos highlight seven everyday moments that parents can take advantage of to help build toddlers’ brains. That includes playing, sharing stories, singing, talking, smiling, snuggling and dancing.
The site offers a free, step-by-step guide in English and Spanish, with tips and simple explanations of how young children develop based on the latest brain research. UNM helped weave the science into the campaign, said Family Development Program Director Lois Vermilya.
“It’s all about translating an explosion of research in understanding how young children learn and grow, how their brains develop through play, and what that means for family members and educators,” Vermilya said. “Relationships are the foundation for learning in young people. Parents and caregivers are a child’s favorite plaything, and loving and being there with their child is the best tool for learning and developing.”
About 90% of brain architecture is laid by age 3, Vermilya added.
“If you want to make sure children absorb the right things by the time they enter kindergarten at age 5, you need to do the right things in their early years,” she said.
UNM and campaign partners held focus groups across the state with families and educators to help shape the message. They integrated the feedback into the website tools and resources to make them simple, easy to understand and fun.
“Parents said the colors, animated characters and overall feeling of the website were reassuring to them,” Vermilya said. “What a great set of messages, especially during COVID-19, that every moment you make that brings joy to your child is great.”
Campaign development began last fall, before COVID-19, but the pandemic made it even more timely, said Early Childhood Education and Care Department spokesman Matt Bieber.
“The campaign takes sophisticated neuroscience and translates it into activities parents can do on a day-to-day basis to impact kids’ growth and development,” Bieber said. “COVID makes that message all the more salient, because parents are now home with children much more than anticipated.”
The department used $600,000 of a federal $5 million pre-school development grant to build the campaign, employing about 30 New Mexicans, said MediaDesk co-founder and Creative Director Sommer Smith. That includes such local artists as former Meow Wolf story editor Alessandra Khalsa, Santa Fe composer Tone Ranger and Taos photographer Melissa Lind.
Santa Fe-based Little Big Bang Studios helped create animated characters and video for the website. And PBS is now rolling out a new “Bright by Text” app to send regular tips on child development to parents.
MediaDesk launched in 2013 to provide creative communications services to nonprofits and public institutions, managing more than 150 projects to date. It currently employs nine people at an office Downtown.
At last June’s 41st annual Telly Awards – which honor commercials made for TV, cable and online media – the company earned silver and bronze medals for local projects it managed, respectively the Albuquerque Sign Language Academy and Future Focused Education.