For Noelle Newland, going to a new nighttime program was just about getting a taste of elementary school, singing Itsy Bitsy Spider and listening to a teacher read Goodnight Moon.
But to Noelle's mother, Sarah Salley-Newland, the United Way Born Learning workshop was a time to get her 4-year-old ready for kindergarten.
Preschool teacher Jamie Owens gave a tip to Salley-Newland and other parents: Children pay more attention if a sock puppet sings a song.
"We want parents to know that they are their child's first and most important teacher," Owens said after Thursday's session at Booker T. Washington Primary Academy. "We want parents to know that there are so many skills that can be learned before they walk through the door of a school."
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Showing parents which everyday activities can increase literacy skills is part of the United Way Born Learning Academies, a free program that has been expanded to four schools. The program was piloted at Booker T. last school year and expanded through a $23,000 grant from Toyota and United Way of the Bluegrass, as well as funding from the Cornerstone Commission of the First Presbyterian Church. The program also addresses the Kentucky Board of Education's concern that half of Kentucky's children are not prepared for kindergarten.
Arlington, Mary Todd and William Wells Brown elementary schools, and Booker T. Washington Primary Academy are among 34 schools statewide receiving funding from Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky Inc through a five-year, $1 million grant.
Toyota got involved "because an educated work force is our number one goal. We are looking 30 years out," said Mike Price, vice president of administration for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky Inc.
More than 50 families have expressed interest in participating, and district officials expect attendance to grow throughout the year.
At six monthly workshops throughout the year, parents and caregivers share a meal with their preschoolers. On Thursday, the children went to one room and, under a teacher's guidance, made tambourines that they later played for their parents. Parents in another room learned how playing board games, singing songs and reading the children's books found in most homes could get a child ready for kindergarten. Before the workshop ended, parents and children reunited to sing songs and read a story before taking home a gift bag of games and books.
Interpreter Norma Flores carried out the activities in Spanish. There were several Spanish-speaking parents and children in the room.
At the sessions, teachers might tell parents that folding clothes can become a game of matching socks; a car ride can enhance a child's natural curiosity by spotting specific things, like a truck, while in traffic. On trips to the grocery store, a child can identify colors and shapes of items a parent asks them to locate in the aisle. The activities help children develop problem solving and planning skills, as well as memory.
"I learned that playing games with children helps with their learning," Salley-Newland said. "When you sit down and play with them, I think they digest it more than when they are playing by themselves."
Alice Nelson, family and community coordinator for Fayette County Public Schools, said it was the district's "goal and dream that we will be able to spread this throughout the county and be able to connect to our families before they come to school."
Whitney Stevenson, associate director of Early Childhood Education department for Fayette County Public Schools, said the program showed families the importance of "talking to your child, being with your child, interacting with your child and what that has to do with their school readiness."
Tom Shelton, school superintendent, said the workshops would provide parents with the tools necessary to turn everyday moments into learning opportunities for children, leading to improved kindergarten readiness.
"There is nothing more important than early childhood education and making sure our students get the right start," Shelton told the parents who went to Booker T. Washington Primary Academy. "We want to be good partners, we want to be good neighbors in the community and we want our families to be in our schools."