ANDERSON — While children may not start attending school until kindergarten, they begin learning at birth. Depending on the experiences provided for toddlers, they are either ready to start kindergarten in a position to learn essential skills that will foster their education, or they are so far behind that teachers struggle to catch them up to the necessary level.
“Some children walk into the kindergarten classroom and have never held a pencil or a crayon,” said Karen Hemberger, vice president for Impact for United Way of Madison County. “It is very difficult to teach a child to read when they don’t even understand what the word ‘under’ means. In Madison County 65 percent of children are not ready for kindergarten when they begin.”
In an attempt to promote a community of citizens with stable jobs and enough income to support families, the United Way of Madison County pours a great deal of support into education programs. Preparing children for success in school through the Born Learning Program is one of their primary goals.
“Learning starts at birth,” said Hemberger. “We want to make sure each child is ready for kindergarten when they start school. We try to offer a continuum of initiatives to help families develop early literacy, which will help them be successful throughout their academic career.”
Born Learning facilitators meet with prenatal classes in the local hospitals to plant a seed about the importance of reading to small children. They also stage Literacy Basket Parties, which are similar to Pampered Chef parties, but the items discussed are materials to promote early learning skills. No sales are conducted. The host receives the basket at the end of the evening and the guests each receive a book.
Events targeted at 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds are also hosted at area elementary schools. At Countdown to Blastoff, children read themed books and participate in activities. Each session allows families to receive three books to add to their personal library.
A Totes Program acts as a lending library for child care providers operating from homes. Since these providers have less access to materials than larger day care facilities, this program offers them a rotation of books and activities that can be used by the provider to ready the children.
“We want to equip these smaller providers with resources and lesson plans so they can work on early literacy,” said Carrie Bale, executive director for Huffer Memorial Children’s Center and Child Care Resource and Referral. “It’s been neat to watch this program progress. This was replicated from a project in Delaware County, but it has been much more successful here.”
The assigned mentor from Huffer offers instruction on how to work with the different developmental stages of children up to age 5. They also point to other programs that are offered and can bring in the rest of the Huffer staff to meet individual needs – all at no charge to the provider due to the support of the United Way.
“The United Way’s Born Learning Program has had a wonderful impact upon the Alexandria community,” said Scott Deetz, principal of Alexandria-Monroe Elementary School. “They have raised awareness for birth-to-5 education in the home to the point that our town’s preschool programs are completely filled. We actually have a waiting list, which hasn’t happened in over 10 years.”
First in a series This is the first in a series of weekly articles, to be published Mondays, about the impact of United Way programs in Madison County. How to give To contribute to the United Way's campaign: u Visit www.unitedwaymadisonco.org u Call 643-7493