Campus wide, College of Education, Faculty, Student Stories

Classroom project would change lives of foster children

By Jan Joslin | February 29, 2024

Entering the foster care system understandably fills children with anxiety. A classroom project completed for an Early Childhood Practicum class has the potential to help ease that anxiety.

Alyssa Phillips, a senior child development major, created a project called The Distraction Bag. While comfort bags filled with basic necessities are given to some children in the foster care system, Phillips could find no evidence of anything similar to her distraction bag in South Carolina.

Phillips and her professor, Dr. Jacquelynn Pleis, associate professor of education, have pitched the idea to The Bair Foundation, a Christian-based foster care and adoption service. They are also working on writing a grant and have plans to share Phillips’ idea with other organizations.

Once a child enters the foster care system he or she spends a good bit of time waiting – waiting in court room hallways, foster care offices, and doctor offices. The Distraction Bag is designed for case workers to provide children with activities to fill the waiting time.

Pleiss said, “Alyssa initiated contact with the Bair Foundation, set up meetings with the caseworkers to find out the needs of the children, researched child development theories when choosing the items for the bags, created sample bags, created a sample budget for bags, included a faith component, and then presented the project to the directors of the Bair Foundation.”

Phillips said, “I never had an idea and actually acted on it. So, for me to be able to come up with an idea, then carry it out and see it flourish, it showed me how much potential I have.  

A lot of things went into the planning of this project, a lot of writing plans, making phone calls, inexpensively shopping, researching, presenting information, and summarizing all the things I learned.” 

Items in the bag were specifically chosen to provide activities to help children pass the time while waiting and to reduce their anxiety.

“Physically, research has shown that when kids can control or direct their movements, especially when stressed or anxious, they can also improve focus and concentration,” said Phillips. “Movement and sensory input are essential for learning and carrying out tasks since they involve both the right and left hemispheres of the brain.”

Each bag has multiple objects meant to provide distraction for anxious brains and bodies. “Fidget toys serve to productively distract and occupy a child’s attention,” said Phillips.

Phillips’ research showed that a distraction bag can be used to help children calm down when they are feeling upset. The child can choose an activity from the bag to focus on, which can help distract them from their negative emotions and allow them to calm down. A distraction bag can be used to keep children engaged and occupied while they are waiting and can be used to pass the time and reduce the children’s frustration or impatience. 

Pleiss said, “For me, the big take aways are how this project allowed Alyssa to grow in unexpected ways and the continual connections CSU makes with the community.”

One of the aspects of the project was finding a way to fill a distraction bag inexpensively. Phillips shopped at local Dollar Tree and 5 Below stores. She was able to find book bags and the items that would enable children to escape from their stressful environments and help them develop in healthy ways.

Items Phillips included in the Distraction Bags:

  • Coloring book with crayons
  • 2 children’s books
  • Mini stuffed animal
  • 2 squeezable toys
  • 2 slinkies
  • Etch-a-Sketch toy
  • Light-up spin wheel
  • Light-up pop-it worm
  • Fidget link tracks
  • Sensory mat

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