In a corner of the OneSky activity room in her rural village in China, 5-year-old Zhenzhen sat alone, quietly playing by herself.
She watched as other children laughed and played together, but they all stayed away.
The first time OneSky trained mentor Ms. Jin saw the lonely child, she noticed that the little girl’s clothes were soiled and that she seemed unkempt. Filled with sympathy for the child— and believing that her disheveled appearance was keeping the other children away—Ms. Jin sat down on the floor, and began to play with her. Soon after, she decided to pay her a home visit.
When Ms. Jin knocked on the front door of the little girl’s house, she was greeted by Zhenzhen, who answered the door, smiling shyly, her dad standing behind her. As Ms. Jin entered the house, she could see it was in disarray.
She learned that Zhenzhen lives with her parents and three siblings. Her mom, Yanling, is developmentally delayed and can only do limited housework. Her dad, Junsheng, is the breadwinner in the family. He struggles to make a living by cultivating some farmland. Apart from harvest seasons, he does odd jobs with the village’s construction team. But recent back problems had forced him to take time off. He was having a hard time keeping up with the children’s needs.
During the home visit, Ms. Jin encouraged Zhenzhen’s mother to establish daily routines and help the children get in the habit of washing their faces and brushing their teeth. “They can learn to do those things on their own,” Ms. Jin told Yanling. “Besides that, make sure they have on clean and neat clothes each day. That will help them feel comfortable and confident.”
Ms. Jin urged Zhenzhen’s parents to send her to the village’s communal Children’s Center as often as possible, so that she could take part in more group activities that are good for her development and would help her socialize more with the other kids. Ms. Jin even offered to pick up Zhenzhen herself if her dad was too busy.
“Thank you, Ms. Jin,” said Zhenzhen’s dad. “We are very willing to take your advice. It’s a good thing to let her learn and gain more knowledge and skills.” Yanling, too, nodded in agreement and seemed to really trust OneSky’s mentor.
From then on, Ms. Jin visited Zhenzhen’s home frequently to provide follow-up and encouragement on Zhenzhen’s behalf. She continued to teach her parents how to focus on their children’s needs and give responsive care.
Soon when Zhenzhen came to the Children’s Center, her clothes were clean. She had become more confident and secure. In fact, she made many friends and was always smiling! She even led the other children in games and loved it when her friends followed and imitated her. In one of her favorites, the children all jumped around like “beans in a frying pan.”
Zhenzhen also really likes music. During music time in the Children’s Center, she enjoyed dancing to the tunes along with Ms. Jin, who noticed that she has a good sense of rhythm.
In the “reading through playing” activity—one of the center’s popular activities—Ms. Jin noticed that Zhenzhen was particularly interested in the story of Snow White. So, one day, when Zhenzhen was stacking building blocks, Ms. Jin joined her and said, “Zhenzhen, your building blocks are so tall. Shall we build a castle for Snow White together?”
Zhenzhen quickly said “Yes!”
So, they worked together, and soon a beautiful Snow White’s castle was completed. Zhenzhen added a small path in front of the castle. “This road is for Snow White to walk on. It leads to her castle,” she said.
“Fantastic! You have a very creative imagination,” said Ms. Jin.
During a recent home visit, Ms. Jin told Zhenzhen’s parents about all her progress. And she was pleasantly surprised to find out that Zhenzhen had been making progress at home as well; not just washing her face and brushing her teeth, but being more polite.
“Now Zhenzhen has become much more thoughtful,” her father told Ms. Jin. “She immediately apologized to her sister after arguing with her. I asked her who taught her to say ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ and she said it was you. I can’t thank you enough for teaching her so well!”