“It’s such a logical connection for us to be using these videos,” Obando said. “It’s like the perfect audience.” And Obando said families have been happy to find the Basics particularly approachable—it doesn’t cost extra money to count trees or houses while walking to the park, for example.
Ana Reinoso Aquino has created a one-on-one course for parents interested in learning the Boston Basics through her work with the Martha Eliot Health Center. Over three one-on-one sessions, Reinoso Aquino explains the five principles and how parents can implement them at home, and in a final session, parents have to demonstrate they can apply what they learned with their child. At the end, Reinoso Aquino hands over a certificate of completion and, when possible, board games or books to support family communication and interaction.
The varied-distribution models will undoubtedly influence how big an impact the Boston Basics have on caregiving. Programs that give parents information, supplementing what they know about child-rearing but leaving the hard work of changing behaviors to them, often fail. Parents, especially parents in poverty, simply have too many competing demands on their time.
But agencies that help parents develop new behaviors and routines with the Boston Basics in mind could make a real difference. Reinoso Aquino’s request that parents incorporate the Basics into their parent-child interactions to earn a certificate is one strategy for doing this.
Ferguson also hopes multiple exposures to the Boston Basics will encourage parents to adopt them. If they hear about the Basics in the hospital, then during doctor visits, then in church, and also at the museum, the constant reminders may help achieve behavior changes.
The more people who get involved in the Boston Basics Initiative, the more ideas there are for disseminating the five principles across a larger swath of the region. And the goal has always been saturation, not simply targeted interventions in low-income communities or communities of color. The effort isn’t about fixing bad parenting strategies among the nation’s disadvantaged; it’s about distributing information that is universally useful. Everyone can learn something from it.
Sarah McLean, who works for the education consulting firm Education First as part of her doctoral program in educational leadership at Harvard, found herself taking feverish notes the first time she heard about the Boston Basics while facilitating a conference at which Ferguson also spoke.
As the parent of a 2-, 4-, and 6-year-old, McLean said she thinks about the Boston Basics every day—reading to her children at night, keeping her toddler engaged during car rides instead of giving him food or letting him watch television. And while she thinks of herself as progressive when it comes to approaching gender stereotypes, the Boston Basics have also made her realize she treats her toddler son differently than she did her older two daughters. She expects her toddler to get up after a fall, whereas she might have scooped up her daughters and comforted them, something more in line with the “maximize love” concept.
Adults tend to parent as they were parented, she said, a cycle that often has no reason to be broken.
“We can’t shed the bad and keep the good if we don’t have some sort of disruption of how this could be different,” McLean said. “The Boston Basics really offers that.”