Last week, when I was at the Bellingham Public Library to return my overdue books (I know! I know!), I heard the wonderful sound of children singing. I followed my ears to the source of the happy songs to see just who dared to disrupt the usual library silence. There, inside the community room, were a dozen children, all around five or younger, belting out a round of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”. Moms, dads, and grandparents stood in a ring around them, watching and singing along. What I had stumbled into was a Play & Learn group!
The facilitator Julie, waved me in and told me all about Play & Learn. According to the Washington Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS), less than half of children entering kindergarten in our region were considered “school-ready” this fall. Because approximately sixty-one percent of children in our region do not attend preschool, increasing school readiness requires a variety of approaches. Play & Learn groups can be an effective way to reach children that are unlikely to participate in formal preschool prior to kindergarten. Estimates from local programs suggest that even once-a-week Play & Learn groups have the potential to reach one hundred and thirty families over the course of a six-month program.
I learned that there are different models of Play & Learn groups. Most offer an informal “drop-in” structure open to all families with young children. High-quality models, such as Kaleidoscope Play & Learn, provide activities that span social and cognitive domains for children AND the adults who care for them. Caregivers gain new tools for supporting children’s development that can be continued at home.
Caregivers also make important social connections at Play & Learn groups – often forming enduring friendships. This is key because research has shown that having a strong social network and concrete support in times of need are important protective factors that can help families and children thrive, even in the face of significant adversity. (Find out more about Protective Factors at www.cssp.org/reform/strengtheningfamilies).
Watching children and families playing together in an environment that was so warm and rich with learning opportunities, I found myself wishing that there was more Play & Learn groups in our region. When I mentioned this to Julie, she told me about something called NW Play & Learn. Northwest Early Learning, our region’s multi-county coalition, has undertaken a campaign to expand Play & Learn across our five counties. The campaign includes Kaleidoscope training and information about sponsoring programs. For more information check out: https://www.nwesd.org/northwest-play-learn.
Northwest Early Learning is also hosting “NW Play & Learn Week” April 24-28th. During NW Play & Learn Week thirteen different Play & Learn groups, from Friday Harbor to Mountlake Terrace, will be hosting special events to promote these great programs. For a listing of NW Play & Learn Week dates and locations you can go here: NW Play & Learn Week. Maybe I will see you at one!