Children’s early learning and brain development are subjects that I have always cared deeply about. But now, as the mother of three little ones, these subjects have taken on a much more personal significance. I marvel every day at the connections my daughter and two sons are making and all that they are absorbing from engaging and interacting with the world around them.
In the first few years of life, more than one million new neural connections are being formed every second. And scientists can literally watch the synapses and neurons firing when parents talk, read and sing to their young children from the earliest days. It helps them learn words, build vocabulary and develop their brains.
Still, too many of our children aren’t getting a strong foundation for learning in the first years of life. Hispanic families, in particular, face economic, linguistic and cultural challenges that make it even harder to prepare young children to learn.
At Too Small to Fail, the early childhood initiative of the Clinton Foundation, we believe every child deserves the strongest possible start in life—with all the tools and resources available to their peers. And we believe that all parents and communities have the power to build a strong foundation for early learning. That’s why, in 2014, we teamed up with Univision— the country’s leading Spanish language media company—which shares our vision that every Hispanic child can enter kindergarten ready to learn. Over the past six years, our partnership has empowered millions of Hispanic parents with information and tools to help build their children’s early brain and language skills.
I’m pleased to share this innovative media partnership model because I’ve been deeply impressed by the reach and impact of this work. Together, we’ve amassed nearly 800 million audience impressions for our campaign programming, provided more than 400,000 families with information online and via text, and reached over 250,000 parents and caregivers through local outreach. According to an independent evaluation by American University’s (AU) Center for Media and Social Impact, parents of young children who consume Too Small to Fail’s messages across Univision’s entertainment platforms expressed significant increases (11-14%) in intent to engage in language-rich parenting behaviors associated with our campaign messages. What’s more, parents who view our television content and subscribe to our campaign’s free text messaging service are more than twice as likely to talk, read and sing to their young children daily from birth, compared to the national average for Hispanics.
If you’re as inspired as I am, I hope you’ll read on and consider supporting this innovative work.
Univision has been a leader in supporting parents—leveraging its tremendous reach and trusted relationship with Hispanic audiences to help close the kindergarten readiness gap. Together with my colleagues at Too Small to Fail, Univision has worked to integrate messages and provide resources to millions of Hispanic viewers across the country, empowering parents with tools and information to help them prepare their young children for success in kindergarten and beyond. We’ve leveraged Univision’s wide array of assets—network and cable television, radio, online and social media, on-air talent and community outreach—to encourage parents and caregivers to dedicate time every day to language-rich activities, like talking, reading and singing with their young children from birth. And, we’ve developed programming that reinforces the important benefits of bilingualism and early numeracy.
As we’ve developed and iterated on this campaign over the years, we’ve conducted focus groups with Hispanic parents, worked with independent evaluators, and informally engaged thousands of Univision viewers at events across the country to better understand the reach and impact of our work.
Here are three important takeaways we’ve learned:
- Integrating parenting messages directly into Univision’s existing entertainment platforms—including its popular reality shows—has been a particularly effective strategy. There’s a lot of research about the role of entertainment programming in shifting knowledge, attitudes and behavior on a range of public health and social issues – including smoking cessation, sexual health, teen pregnancy and seatbelt safety, among other topics. Our hypothesis was that we might be able to replicate that impact on early childhood issues.
Since 2017, we’ve integrated early childhood messages in several of Univision’s top-rated reality series, including the network’s hit talent competition show, Pequeños Gigantes. With a format that mirrors The Voice or American Idol, the series features child contestants competing each week to win the top prize.
Working with the show’s creative team, we’ve developed and produced a series of nearly 30 segments that feature inspiring interviews with the contestants and their parents. The segments focus on ways that parents helped their young children develop their talents by engaging in simple activities from birth—like talking, reading, singing, counting and speaking two languages at home. These integrations alone have surpassed 80 million viewer impressions and delivered over an hour of substantive prime-time programming on early childhood development topics to Univision viewers.
- Embedding messages about early literacy in telenovelas (soap operas) and other scripted content can meaningfully shift parent attitudes and behaviors, especially if the messages are packaged alongside storylines that are positive and hopeful. For example, Univision and Too Small to Fail created the network’s very first original, multi-episode telenovela with embedded social impact messages, La Fuerza de Creer. We’ve brought together award-winning soap opera producers and leading practitioners—including pediatricians, community organizers, and early childhood experts—to create a series full of real-life challenges and inspiring storylines that reinforce the important role parents play in a child’s first five years of life. According to AU’s researchers, the audience’s experience of positive emotions while watching La Fuerza de Creer predicted positive changes in viewer knowledge, feelings of self-efficacy and parenting behaviors.
Now in production for its third season, La Fuerza de Creer is an also innovative example of social impact programming that delivers strong ratings—both in Sunday prime-time and peak daytime slots. The show’s two seasons and related promotional segments have delivered nearly 15 hours of network programming, surpassed 40 million audience impressions on Univision and out-performed other telenovelas (and networks) in the same time slot.
- Offering viewers opportunities to stay connected to the content—through community events, social media and text-based resources—helps to reinforce campaign messages, connect audiences to local resources, and create a community of support for parents. Together with Univision’s local affiliate stations across the country and our colleagues at Literacy Partners, we’ve organized community events, education fairs and campaign workshops to engage directly with parents and families.
And, to complement all of our television programming and serve as an ongoing resource for parents, Univision and Too Small to Fail operate the country’s largest Spanish-language mobile messaging service for parents of young children, providing twice-weekly tips, prompts and activity ideas to support early learning. To date, more than 125,000 parents have joined to the service, which delivers messages directly to parents from Satcha Pretto, the popular host of Univision’s network morning show (and mother of two).
According to AU researchers, two-thirds of subscribers report regularly engaging in the tips and activities provided by the service, and about the same number report sharing the tips with other parents. And, subscribers feel empowered—94% acknowledge that the messages have helped reinforce that parents play a major role preparing their children for kindergarten.
On behalf of our partners at Univision, I’d like to thank the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Packard Foundation for their longstanding commitment to our campaign and our audience. We wouldn’t be able to engage in this work without their support and willingness to take risks with us along the way.
And finally, I’d like to acknowledge and thank our terrific colleagues at Univision. Our work together represents an especially effective example of media impact, and I’m delighted that we continue to innovate, evaluate and achieve measurable results for Hispanic children and families. We hope that other funders and partners will join us.
A new season of Pequeños Gigantes, with embedded early childhood messages for viewers, debuts on Univision on Sunday, March 8. Go to clintonfoundation.org to learn more about Too Small to Fail, or email Too Small to Fail Director Patti Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.