For young children, toys aren’t only fun to play with, but also offer valuable educational opportunities.
This is the main takeaway from Oak Harbor Public Schools’ READY! for Kindergarten program.
“The goal of Ready for K is to get parents to read to their kids for 10 minutes a day and engage in purpose play for 10 minutes a day,” said Susan Briddell, a facilitator for the program and one of the teachers who brought it to Oak Harbor.
During three free workshops throughout the year at Oak Harbor Elementary, parents who have children, between the ages of infants to 5 learn nursery rhymes, games to play with their kids, set developmental goals and receive toys that can be used in educational ways.
Research indicates that this “purposeful-play” can decrease gaps in outcomes when children reach kindergarten, Briddell said.
For mother Rekann Brannon, she already knew a lot of the information taught in the classes, but they gave her the tools and a structured and organized way to put them to practice, she said. She appreciates that the information is directly “applicable to everyday home life.”
She has attended the workshops for three years, and some of the toys she’s received at them have become favorites for her three boys.
The program started five years ago with a grant from the Department of Defense, according to Kathy Ridle, organizer and the other teacher who brought the workshops to the city.
One goal of the grant was to increase kindergarten readiness, but the district didn’t have a good way to reach many preschoolers at a time, she said.
Ridle founded the Washington state-based program that provides materials for three workshops focusing on language and literature, math and reasoning, and social and emotional learning.
District levy funding pays for binders with the educational materials for the parents, toys and activities for the kids and dinner for the families.
Paraeducators and high school Key Club volunteers provide free daycare for the parents during the classes.
Each workshops serves 60 to 85 families, Ridle said. Each time there are usually 10 to 20 new families who are given an orientation by Ridle and Superintendent Lance Gibbon.
All the families are served dinner in the cafeteria. Kids are then taken to daycare while parents are split into classes based on their kids’ ages.
“It’s pretty fast and furious,” Ridle said of the classes. “It’s a lot of material to cover in 90 minutes.”
Parents receive books, puzzles, stickers, sidewalk chalk and nesting blocks all based on the age of their children.
Shannon and Ryan Olson are in their first year of the workshops
Now, instead of being concerned as much with their two kids’ academic learning, the Olsons focus more on talking about feelings, roll playing and learning through play.
“It’s really well organized in terms of all the tools provided,” said Ryan Olson.
“I wish more families took advantage of it,” Shannon Olson added.
The workshops are really to remind parents to be engaging with their children as much as possible, said Briddell. Parents could use bath toys to identify the shapes and colors, or practice counting.
Sometimes, technology offers parents a break, but it cuts down on this kind of engagement, she said.
“My parents had to talk to me all the time,” she said. “They couldn’t just give me an iPad.”