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Free Sparkler app helps Utah parents track their young child’s developmental milestones

May 30, 2024, 4:30 PM

SARATOGA SPRINGS — It’s well known parenthood doesn’t come with an instruction manual — or at least it hasn’t, until now. The Help Me Grow Utah program sponsored by the United Way of Utah County introduced a new app to help parents along the way.

Sylvia Lam gave birth to her oldest child, 4-year-old Ashton Nguyen, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Ashton just finished his first year of preschool, so he’s all about numbers and counting. He loves math,” Lam said. “With Ashton being our first I had no idea what milestones were and where we should be.”

He’s progressing really well today but early on, Lam grew concerned when he wasn’t meeting some of his developmental milestones.

“We had some delays in speech … and a lot of significant delays in social skills and kind of being out and with other people so,” she described. “I was really, really concerned about milestones for him because he missed out on early experiences like his first year of life being out in society. He’s caught up now!”

Today, Sylvia uses the Sparkler app to track her kids’ milestones through regular surveys. The Help Me Grow Utah organization released the app earlier this year to replace online surveys they used to send out. “This app provides a faster and easier way for families to get those done all right through their phone,” director Tomas Caceres said.

The app is designed to track progress in communication skills, gross and fine motor skills, and both social and emotional behavior. He says tracking those skills helps parents identify room for improvement.

“Certain questions [like], ‘Can your child pick up a Cheerio?’ Caceres said. “You can go back to the app and say ‘Yes, my child does that’ or ‘Not yet, my child does not do that yet.’”

Sylvia Lam with her child. (KSL TV)

Once a parent completes the survey, they will receive a score for their child’s progress in each area.

“Parents aren’t left to interpret those results themselves. Our Parent Support Specialists will get on a phone call with them, go over those results, and have a conversation with them,” Caceres explained.

A parent support specialist reached out to Lam to offer support when they noticed a need for Ashton. “Having somebody kind of be your coach or cheerleader to say, ‘It’s okay. You can do it. Here’s some very concrete things that you can do. Here’s some examples. Don’t worry. We’ll check in in a couple weeks,’” Lam said.

Lam was so grateful to talk to someone over the phone. “I think if I just read those results, I would have just cried because as a parent, you really want the best for your kids, and when you feel like you’re not giving them the best, it’s really hard,” she said.

Instead, the parent support specialist offered productive strategies for Lam to help Ashton improve.

“Depending on where they scored we might just send some activities for you to try at home, we might send some videos for you to look over and practice with your child, but there are times where a referral is needed for more hands-on in-person support,” which would come from a third party, Caceres noted.

The parent support specialist told Lam to do everything she could to instill confidence in her son since that would, “trickle down into all of those other hard skills that [they] trying to work on like saying more words or completing a sentence or holding a pencil the right way,” she said. Lam really valued that advice.

The app offers more than 2,000 activity ideas for parents to help their child progress. “There’s a lot of fun ideas for play and ways you can just use ordinary items at home to kind of create different games or sensory bins,” Lam said.

“Learning where your child is at developmentally comes with engaging with your child and playing with them and getting down on your knees and actively playing with those toys,” Caceres said. “It promotes healthy relationships. It promotes trust in that parent.”

The app also allows parents to document their child’s progress through photos. “You can actually take a picture of your child completing that activity and you can create a scrapbook within the app,” he said. “It’s really awesome to go back and look at that growth with your child.”

After getting the help she needed with Ashton, Lam was excited to also track her two-year-old daughter, Eevee Nguyen’s growth. “I have a profile set up for each child and so I get pop-up notifications on my phone when it’s time to do a survey for Ev or time to do a survey for Ashton,” she explained. “It gives me good reminders if I’m like, ‘Oh, we’re not there yet. Oh, I should put some more time and more emphasis on activities that will help us learn those things.”

Lam is grateful for the reassurance the support has provided. “When we get those reports back and we’re doing really well in different areas, that makes me feel more confident as a parent and that we’re providing the experiences that our children need,” she said.

Caceres urges parents to start tracking their child’s milestones as soon as possible. “Studies shows that the most critical ages in a child’s life is zero to three,” he said. “Their brain is growing rapidly and there’s a lot going on. They’re taking in a lot from the environment… and so if we can catch those signs early the better off your child will be.”

The Sparkler app allows parents to track their kids’ milestones starting at just two months of age. It’s available for free in both English, Spanish, and Chinese on both the App Store and Google Play store for Utah residents with the code UT.

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Free Sparkler app helps Utah parents track their young child’s developmental milestones