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PC² - Parent+Child Play Center

A place for parents to connect with their young children in a relaxed, supportive, developmentally appropriate environment - to PLAY!

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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

We have been thinking, even dreaming, about Play Centers all over our area - and beyond - for a couple of years. A link to The Prize was forwarded to me about 10 days ago. For that first week, as I was percolating our idea in the realm of IDEO it has taken some new and exciting shapes. Reading through your support pages made me think about what is innovative about our idea and recognize the simple things that are so special about our current program, The Parenting Center, like the focus on older infants and young toddlers and the openness and knowledge of Parent Educators who help families with practical, human-centered approaches to parenting. At different stages over the years we have proposed to do too much, or to fill someone else’s idea of what parents should be “educated” about. The short but meaningful process of completing this IDEO proposal has focused our team on the best service we can provide - the best way we can support parents and families by providing tools and networks that equip parents and families with the knowledge, skills and practices they need [to] give their children the best start in life. Our proposed Parent + Child Play Centers, referred to as Play Centers, fit right in with the goal of the Early Childhood Innovation Prize; to focus our approach in a new way that positively impacts families, especially in our most under served communities, that is human-centered and easily set-up, replicated, and scaled. Let’s play!

Name or Organization

The Parenting Center at Children's Hospital


The Parenting Center is in New Orleans, Louisiana, with partnerships reaching throughout the Greater New Orleans area.

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD


  • Non - Profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Describe your submission in one clear sentence

Parent+Child Play Centers are places for parents to connect with their very young children in a relaxed, supportive, developmentally appropriate environment - to PLAY!

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Play Centers can be the solution for parents who who feel like they are guessing, who want activity ideas, or who feel isolated. Play Centers will provide practical tools and ideas through age-appropriate play spaces, and access to Parent Educators in an informal setting to discuss common concerns about raising young children. Being with other parents builds a network of support and information sharing. Through relationships with other agencies in the city, Play Centers can also act as amplifiers for services such as Early Steps and awareness campaigns like Talking is Teaching.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Ever hear this one: “If only babies came with instructions.” Many of those things parents want to know are not specialized - and they can’t wait for an appointment. Play Centers will provide inviting play spaces and resources for parents of babies and toddlers to obtain information and support on parenting issues, as well as a place to develop relationships with other parents. Families may not have access to safe and age-appropriate play spaces in their neighborhoods. By establishing Play Centers throughout the city, fun and stimulating materials and activities will be accessible to a larger number of New Orleans residents. Staffed by Parent Educators with education and experience in early childhood development, we will offer parents an opportunity to discuss such common concerns as child development and milestones, sleeping, eating, toilet training, and discipline. Providing a place and materials for supervised, guided play with peers gives one- and two-year-olds the opportunity to develop rudimentary social skills, such as turn-taking. Recent studies have shown that children with strong social skills are more likely to achieve success in future domains, including academic competence and healthy adult relationships. Being with other infants and toddlers gives children the opportunity for socialization without having to separate from a caregiver, and gives parents the time to establish friendships with other adults to build their support systems.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

The benefits of early play and relationships on brain development are well-documented, but the messages are often in conflict with the current emphasis on early academic skills and the rise of technology or “screentime.” Information, support, and resources for parents of infants and toddlers can be “siloed,” making them difficult to access. Opportunities are lacking for healthy play experiences for babies and toddlers that would foster social-emotional learning so critical for future success.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

The Parenting Center at Children's Hospital was established in 1981 and serves as a model for a successful prevention program. We will use this model to open free, comfortable and inviting play spaces for families with children under age four. The Play Centers would be open to families three mornings each week, although we could extend or alter hours based on community feedback and available resources. A Parent Educator with experience and knowledge of early childhood would always be present to welcome parents, and answer questions they may have about parenting, child development, and any other concerns. Parenting groups around a specific topic such as discipline, sleep, or eating may be organized depending on demand, but we expect most parent education to be provided in informal, parent-directed discussions in the playroom, as relationships are established. Collaboration with other area agencies means we can share information and connect families to resources, from the Back to Sleep campaign, Talking is Teaching, Early Head Start, and more. The playroom will be designed and furnished with a focus on age-appropriate, open-ended play for toddlers. Materials will include balls, puzzles, blocks, sorting and stacking toys, “busy” boxes, dress up and kitchen areas for imitative and pretend play, dolls, cars and trucks, and push toys. Ideally, there would be access to an outside play area with riding toys, a sandbox, and a climbing/sliding structure so children have the opportunity for gross motor, as well as fine motor and sensory, activities. Infant spaces will be set up as space allows. Once open, regularly scheduled art and music activities will be included to give children a variety of experiences, and give parents ideas for simple, no-cost activities they can do at home. A Parent Educator will be in the play area to facilitate play and model “best practice” in responding to children's interests, behaviors, and interactions so parents can see and appreciate developmental needs and milestones. If you don’t have a background in brain development it can be hard to see the glory in repetition and imitation, or the scientist behind a “spill-n-fill” experiment. We have already identified potential sites, and will use our community contacts to choose final location(s) that will be easily accessible by public transportation. We are currently leaning toward two neighborhoods where our network of hospitals have sites and there is a concentration of low income families. In addition to funding and accessibility, sites must be child friendly, space appropriate, and safe for families with young children. Budgets for materials and staffing will be updated as needed, depending on what is available at a given site regarding security, support services, and supplemental space. Our outreach and marketing campaign will be implemented using systems already in place: Children’s Hospital’s network of hospitals, including 11 pediatric practices; relationships with the New Orleans Health Department and local Head Start centers; local parenting websites, television, radio, and social media. The Parenting Center and Children’s Hospital maintain separate Facebook and Twitter pages, each with substantial reach; 1,232 Facebook and 278 Twitter followers, and 31,655 Facebook and 8,532 Twitter followers, respectively, plus 2,140 Instagram followers. The Children’s Hospital website had 1.6 million views in 2016. We have a marketing contract with the New Orleans Mom’s Blog. In 2015 alone NOMB reached over 1 MILLION unique visitors. During a 30 day period that year they had +94,000 unique visitors to the website and +135,000 page views total. We also contribute a regular article and purchase ad space in the local parenting magazine, nolababy and family. Our Parent Educators are interviewed biweekly on the morning show of the local CBS affiliate, WWL TV Morning Show. The typical audience for The Morning Show on WWL is 57,876 households x 2.62 persons per household (US Census) = 115,752. We provide information to parent communities through partnerships with the La Children’s Museum, the local Macaroni Kids newsletter, and regular contact with social services agencies like the Nurse Family Partnership. Parents will be invited to drop in as soon as the space is set up and ready, and then to join us in celebrating a Grand Opening.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

1. New Orleans parents, babies and toddlers are the primary beneficiaries. Parents will benefit by building a support network of other parents in a positive parenting environment. Babies and toddlers will benefit through enriching, brain building activities. Parents and caregivers will have a model to practice strategies that work and support strong connections and social development. Successful experiences in taking turns, waiting, and interacting with other children will benefit children and their caregivers by building a foundation for later school success. Parents and caregivers will also benefit through relationships with other parents and increased knowledge and confidence through learning positive approaches to managing the often confusing behavior of very young children. New Orleans families will benefit from the expansion of services from one of the city’s most trusted messengers, Children’s Hospital. 2. Children’s Hospital has a well recognized history of serving the most fragile and at risk of New Orleans families and children. The Parenting Center is over 37 years old and is a nationally recognized program providing education and support to families of children of all ages, but with a primary focus on parents and grandparents of babies and toddlers. The multi-disciplinary parent educators reach parents from varying backgrounds and currently serve parents through programs at our center, local Head Start programs, and at a homeless shelter for teens & young adults.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

In a three year period, 2015-17, 450 member families made 46,032 visits to the playroom, and our weekly new parent support group had over 1500. But our real impact may be in the long-lasting potential of those experiences. The most dramatic brain growth occurs during the first five years of life. Research has found that providing early, consistent, language-rich experiences - talking, reading, singing - positively impacts brain development and future academic success. In a play space with materials and activities that encourage interaction with their one- and two-year-olds, families can promote cognitive development and emerging social and language skills, while strengthening the quality of the parent/child relationship, also key to readiness and resilience. We have to change beliefs before we can change behaviors. Neighborhood-based centers that build relationships with Parent Educators as trusted messengers can have an exponential impact, change the way we reach families, and provide models for replication by others. Parents repeatedly say that their experiences at The Parenting Center shaped their attitudes and behavior with their children, increased their satisfaction as parents and helped them be the kind of positive parent they aspired to be. Due to our longevity, we are seeing a second generation of parents as well as grandparents coming back with their grandchildren. Parents often call throughout their children’s growth as they deal with new challenges.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

In New Orleans, almost 39% of families with children live in poverty. These families often live with high levels of stress that can have a negative impact on their child’s cognitive and emotional development, as caregivers who are struggling to meet basic needs may not have the resources, information or time they need to provide the stimulating experiences that foster optimal brain development. Quality early childhood education can help close the gap between low- and middle/upper income children, but there is a shortage of programs available in the New Orleans area. According to 2017 data from Agenda for Children, more than 8,000 at-risk children under age three did not have access to an established quality program, such as Early Head Start. These first three years are a critical period for language, cognitive and social-emotional development. The Play Centers will help low-income families have regular, quality play experiences that would help promote these skills, necessary for healthy growth and school success. Locations in neighborhoods with a concentration of families with young children and a lack of services, especially quality, affordable, developmentally appropriate play opportunities, also reduces barriers for low income families. Play Centers will provide a comfortable, personalized environment to learn about developmental milestones and the impact of early experiences, and can connect parents with community resources available to them, if needed.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)

The idea is to expand a proven concept with over 37 years of success beyond the walls of our current center into the greater New Orleans community, reaching parents where they gather - community centers, libraries, neighborhood clinics - and at locations easily accessed by public transportation. We plan to help parents take advantage of everyday moments to promote brain development, enhance family relationships, increase parental confidence and enjoyment as well as prepare children for school. Play Centers offer two specific innovations to the early childhood diaspora. First, the focus on one- and two-year olds. Information, commercial products, and - especially - play spaces designed for very young children tend to skew towards infants or young preschool-aged children. Even in high quality child care centers, the toddler rooms are often the weak link. It’s a very misunderstood age with a lot going on. Our spaces give this age group engaging choices in a supportive and safe environment. Second, by offering a parent- and child-centered environment that families visit on their own schedule, Parent Educators build relationships with families and become trusted messengers. Reliable and evidence-based information and support can be delivered at a time and in a context that is more useful and meaningful to families - responding to questions and concerns in the moment.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

The Parenting Center currently has two playrooms available to members who join for a fee. While scholarships are readily available, having a completely free play space will reduce barriers to access and encourage neighborhood residents to participate. We will plan an outreach campaign using Children’s Hospital’s network, including 11 pediatric practices, relationships with the New Orleans Health Department, local Head Start centers, and parenting websites, television, radio, and social media to get the word out. As a non-profit hospital, Children’s has made a commitment to New Orleans families through support of The Parenting Center. Partnerships with other agencies and funders which will be tapped to contribute to the future growth and expansion of Parenting Center services. Each Play Center respects and reflects its community; neighborhoods define the social connections here. We think every neighborhood should have a space for families who are home with children to benefit from what is known about the early years. This is a low cost way to reach families and is easily replicated. New Orleans has a shortage of resources for families with children under three; in 2017, more than 8,000 did not have access to quality programs proven to contribute to school readiness. By locating the play spaces in neighborhoods, using trusted messengers, and partnering with established community centers or area hospitals, we could reach those families denied access to the limited spots.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

Can it be done? Well we’ve been doing it for 37 years! Fine tuning our focus to fill the gap in opportunities and provide play spaces designed especially for our youngest players should make the pathway even more clear. Response to the idea of replicating the playroom at The Parenting Center has been very enthusiastic. From a technical and operational perspective, we have everything we need. Our first step in implementation will be to follow up on location ideas. We have experience setting up and operating play spaces; we’ve moved our own a couple of times and already have one part time, satellite location. Our budget for the new Play Centers is based on the cost of setting up our existing part-time center using the buying contacts we have in place. If we are able to find appropriate space through our affiliated network of hospitals that are all part of the Louisiana Children’s Medical Corporation (LCMC), space would contain costs for items such as security and utilities. We have done most of our buying from Lakeshore Learning, Discount School Supply, and Community Playthings as well as local toy stores. We know what spaces and materials work best with this age and hold up well under heavy play traffic.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (1500 characters)

As a department of Children’s Hospital, business systems are already in place and THe Parenting Center provides a model for operation. The key to success will be “getting the word out” which is also the biggest challenge we anticipate. Our director works closely with the marketing team at Children's Hospital and LCMC to use opportunities to market our services and programs. We have a regularly scheduled spot on the morning show of the local CBS affiliate which enables us to reach a broad television-viewing audience. Ours is a hard market to reach and hold on to because it changes fast: children grow up! And we’ve learned that until people have children, they are not really paying attention to services aimed at this market. Often, when we have an event, it is best to go right to the source: providing information to parents through birthing hospitals, pediatricians, and child care programs. We are currently meeting with hospital affiliated pediatric practices and the New Orleans Health Department as we kick off a “Talking is Teaching” campaign and plan to make the rounds again to let staff know about the Play Centers.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (1500 characters)

Play Centers, like The Parenting Center playroom, will be designed to accommodate babies and toddlers and their parents. Learning center-style play areas help to provide boundaries for solo or parallel play, as in early learning centers. Extending the space in those areas accommodates parents to join in the play. Regular feedback from parents and observation of play patterns helps us make adaptations; adding gross motor play areas inside when outside is not accessible, providing duplicates of toddler toys and multiples of popular items. Parent Educators are a key human element, turning information from the field, research updates and reports into effective and helpful guidance for parents. Parents may get information about nutrition, for example, at a pediatric visit. But they are more likely to develop mealtime strategies in a discussion with other parents and a Parent Educator that takes into consideration the child’s developmental stage, temperament, and details such as a new baby in the house or change in routine. Instead of trying to get a toddler to SHARE (insert eye roll), the opportunity to facilitate turn-taking while children are “in the moment” helps parents understand this developmental step and translate theory to practice. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the most effective parenting programs include time together with professionals to practice skills.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

1. Our inspiration to create neighborhood Play Centers is the consistent response from users and visitors of the playroom at The Parenting Center; “Everyone should have a place like this.” It’s rare to find a space for toddlers to play where it is safe to explore and scaled to their size and abilities. 2. Brain development is complicated. But enhancing brain development during these critical first three years can be relatively simple. It happens best in an environment that is nurturing and safe, with experiences and opportunity for exploration, through repetition and imitation, and from interactions that are relevant and connected to their world. We can do that; we can provide that environment for all children. And we can help parents and caregivers support brain development with activities and strategies that work. 3. As the early childhood lead on this project, I, Jenni Evans, have worked in the field for more than 30 years, starting as a teacher and Assistant Director in an NAEYC Accredited center. Then, at a child advocacy organization I was on the team starting the first Child Care Resources and Referral service and child care training program for our area through the (then) new Child Care and Development Block Grant. I served on the local AEYC affiliate as a Board Member, Conference Chair, President, and Celebration of the Young Child Chair. I worked with Louise Derman Sparks on the local section of the AntiBias Education Leadership Project. I developed workshops and presentations on brain development, classroom planning and curriculum, effective environments for young children, child development, and parent communication. After returning to the classroom to work with toddlers for a few more years, I joined The Parenting Center as a Parent Educator, focusing on classes and presentations for parents of young children, and design and oversight of play areas. In short, I have studied and practiced in the field of early childhood by working with young children; with teachers of young children; with local, regional, and national teams in the field; and, now, with parents. The rest of our team has extensive experiences with families in a variety of social service settings: foster care, child protection, inpatient at Children’s Hospital, social/emotional enrichment groups for kindergartners and in private practice as social workers. They have been trained in parenting programs such as The Incredible Years and Triple P, and have a combined experience designing research informed classes and presentations of over 50 years. We have all found the work with parents who are just starting their families to be an exciting opportunity in preventing later problems.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (500 characters)

Yes, we do have the people to do what we need and anticipate partnering with others working in the communities where Play Centers open in order to best serve families and maximize impact. We have 5 parent educators whose sole mission is to support, facilitate and empower parents and caregivers. We also have the support and backing of Children’s Hospital and our network of affiliated partner hospitals and local social service agencies and programs.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Children's Hospital of New Orleans: The Parenting Center on facebook: @chnolaparentingcenter

[Optional] Video: You are invited to submit a 30-60 second video that introduces you and/or your team and your idea.


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