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OU-Tulsa's Early Childhood Education Institute to launch app on needs of children, parents during pandemic

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OU-Tulsa's Early Childhood Education Institute partners with others to monitor effects of COVID-19 pandemic on young children.

OU-Tulsa’s Early Childhood Education Institute is partnering with the OU Health Sciences Center and Tulsa Educare to closely monitor the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has on young children and their families.

According to the institute’s website, the research project “Childhood in a Pandemic: Parent Stress, Resources and Interactions During COVID-19” is helping to create an app which allows families to provide updates on their children’s needs. The website said that a questionnaire will ask parents about their children’s food, behavior, learning activities and stress management.

“One option that they might tell us is, ‘I need formula for my kid or I need diapers or wipes,’ kind of like an instrumental material need,” Early Childhood Education Institute Assistant Director of Research Sherri Castle said. ”For that, we would just recommend that they contact 2-1-1 and engage with the community infrastructure that's already out there. Then we had three other stressors and options that we asked about. One was that I'm concerned about my child's mental health or my child's behavior.”

Castle said over the past year, the institute recorded an increase in reports of emotional or behavioral distress in the children they have been studying. Castle also said the second stressor was mental health support for the parents.

“We provided some support for that, and then the final was both learning and physical activities for children,” Castle said.

According to the website, parents’ responses will be used to provide resources to meet parental needs for their children.

Castle said much of the research is in partnership with Head Start and Early Head Start programs, which provide care to children from birth through age five, who are at risk of educational challenges due to poverty or disability status or foster care.

Castle said the institute’s local partners also closed because of the pandemic, affecting the educational experiences of the children that attended them. Castle also said that although schools have reopened, children still need the extra help.

“There are these children who are coming to these programs because they're in these vulnerable populations, and suddenly, their schools are closed,” Castle said. “They're not able to have these interactions that we think are so important with their teachers and caregivers.”

Castle also said the institute is concerned about what children have missed by not being around their peers, as they don’t have an opportunity to interact with the materials available to them.

“So we wanted to figure out some way to kind of be responsive to the needs families might have,” Castle said.

Castle said although virtual tours and learning experiences are helpful, not all of it is a great fit for some kids. Castle also said despite the difficulty, institute staff believes the app has a use beyond the pandemic. 

“The parents can still be pinged on the phone once a week, maybe not every day, but maybe twice a week,” Castle said. “We could say, ‘hey, would you like a resource for your child today and if so, what kind of would you like?’ Then, we could push out that resource to them in a way just to kind of provide additional support to families in an ongoing fashion.”

Christian Hans is a journalism junior at OU and news reporter for The Daily.

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