Transforming Communities through Child-Centered Learning

Ed Note: This is a cross post from the blog of whitehouse.gov. You can find the original post here.

Cheryl McCallum is being honored as a White House Champion of Change for her leadership and commitment to libraries and museums around the United States. 

Cheryl McCallum

I believe in “learning by doing,” which is why I fell in love with the Children’s Museum of Houston the minute I walked in the building 20 years ago. Since that time, I’ve had the great fortune of being a part of the team that furthers our mission to “transform communities through innovative child-centered learning” in one of the most dynamic and diverse large cities in the nation. It’s a great honor to be recognized as a White House Champion of Change for this work, helping to provide personalized learning experiences to each child, parent, nanny, grandparent, and teacher who visits us.

It’s no secret that today’s students are faced with myriad challenges that are hard to surmount. One of our driving goals at the museum is to partner with parents and schools to make sure that children have the well-rounded and relevant learning experiences they need to be successful. Schools can’t offer everything that children need, especially since time in the classroom only amounts to about 20 percent of a child’s waking hours during a year. The Children’s Museum of Houston is dedicated to helping make the most of the other 80 percent to advance learning and achievement.

One of my recent stories about our impacts came from a child who participated in the first year of Summer of Learning, a program we implemented with the Greater Houston YMCA in 2012. The museum developed the curriculum and instructional strategies and trained YMCA summer camp staff to implement the program for elementary school aged campers. At the end of the summer, one of the campers asked a YMCA center director, “Ms. Lori, will we get to do science every day next year when we go back to school?” This one quote sums up quite nicely the passion for learning we are trying to engender with the museum’s programming.

The museum partners with more than 740 organizations in Houston to ensure that all families have access, regardless of their ability to pay admission. Through these partnerships, we expand our reach in many ways. Our relationship with the Houston Public Library started through the launch of a library branch in the museum fourteen years ago with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Since then, we have implemented many initiatives with the library, including the Para los Niños program that is designed to help monolingual Spanish-speaking parents be first teachers for their toddlers and preschoolers and prepare them for school.

In 2010, we developed with our library partners the Family Literacy Involvement Program (FLIP), which circulated 2,280 activity packages, each with a children’s book, a reading guide for parents, and multiple fun items for activities that foster literacy. Kits are available in four languages (English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese) and circulate through the Houston Public Library’s 34 branches. With IMLS funding, we conducted an extensive study of the impacts of the kits on parents’ ability to engage their children in learning. We found that those who used the kit, as compared to those who only had the book, learned much more (20 percentage point difference) about their child’s interests and abilities and also gained many more new ideas (23 percentage point difference) for improving literacy learning through activities at home.

All of our children deserve the very best learning experiences, ones that will help them use the learning literacies they develop in their early years to be successful learners throughout life. I’m proud of the education work that we do at the museum and the part that I’ve been able to play in making it happen. Thank you for recognizing us through the Champions for Change program.

Cheryl McCallum is the Director of Education at the Children’s Museum of Houston.

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