The Intake Process: We start our SPARK journey by learning about the child from the expert: the parent. During the first two SPARK visits, the parent partner asks about the child’s favorite color, favorite books, and family routines, including screen time, reading time, learning time, and family outings. She learns from the parent about the best ways to motivate the child to accomplish a task. She asks about the child’s medical history, screens for signs of trauma, and administers screenings that gauge developmental levels and skill levels.
Then it’s time for the parent to learn from the parent partner, who explains why SPARK is important and how the program works, emphasizing that parent participation is essential. The parent signs a form agreeing to keep visit appointments and to actively engage in learning with the child, both during SPARK visits and in between visits.
Every SPARK lesson is based on a particular book. All
lessons follow a predictable pattern:
- Storytime: Every lesson begins with story time. The first SPARK lesson book is called Barnyard Banter; it’s about a farm and the animals who live there. It’s a great choice for children developing pre-literacy skills. Even though the book contains very few words, it introduces some words that may be new to the child. The animal sounds used are repetitive, which allows all children to “read along.” A new book is introduced at each lesson. Each book has been strategically chosen so that new concepts build upon skills that have already been developed. The parent partner first shows the child and parent the book’s front cover, reads the title aloud, and names the author and illustrator. This introduces print awareness, which is an important concept in early literacy: the goal is to help the child understand what a book is, how it’s held, and how to identify its elements. While reading the story, the parent partner will define words that may be unfamiliar, ask the child and parent what they see in the illustrations, and ask open-ended questions about what’s happening in the story.
- The Activities: After story time, several activities reinforce the concepts being introduced. The activities are always fun and engaging; they may involve making patterns with beads, telling stories with puppets, creating silly rhymes, counting out cookies to share with guests, or playing an I Spy game by spotting colors or shapes around the room.
- Summing it All Up: After the activities are finished, the child’s learning goals are reviewed and progress is discussed. The parent partner might give the parent suggestions for helping the child master a skill or tips for breaking a challenge into manageable steps. The family receives that lesson’s book, learning supplies, a card suggesting additional activities that will reinforce the concepts that were introduced, and another card that offers tips to help the parent engage the child in learning until the next visit.
Every SPARK lesson has predictable elements as well:
- Parent Engagement: Parent engagement is SPARK’s primary goal. The parent partner equips the parent with the strategies and tools needed to engage the child in learning. While reading Barnyard Banter, for instance, the parent partner asks the parent to count the number of animals shown on a page. This shows the parent how to use book reading to engage the child in learning. While the parent partner initially leads all lesson activities, she increasingly and consistently encourages the parent to lead elements of the lessons.
- The SPARK Journal: The child receives a blank journal as the program begins. During every lesson, the child practices writing in the journal and draws pictures on the pages as prompted by the parent partner. By the end of the program, the journal is filled with the child’s work, and the family has a wonderful keepsake showing the child’s growth while participating in SPARK.
- The Learning Plan: As participation begins, the parent partner and the parent collaborate to create a learning plan. The plan is based on the child’s skill levels, and it contains achievable goals for the child, as well as an engagement goal for the parent. Progress is reviewed at every lesson, and the plan is revised every nine weeks. The learning plan is a great tool for ensuring that measurable progress is achieved.