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Idaho Voices

Ready! helps parents teach children

Most have heard of the book or at least are familiar with its contents. Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” talks of important life lessons such as share, clean up after yourself, play fair.

But what should parents do to prepare their children for that important kindergarten learning experience? Those are the tools that Sandpoint’s Ready! for Kindergarten organizers are eager to teach parents of preschool children.

In its second year, the local Ready! program is sponsored by the Panhandle Alliance for Education and is put on in conjunction with Lake Pend Oreille School District and the National Children’s Reading Foundation. Ready! is a national program based on the premise that children learn best when taught by someone they love and trust – that being their parents or caregivers.

The classes, which are taught to parents of children up to age 5, are designed to promote interaction between the children and their parents and caregivers in a way that will promote literacy, math and social skills.

“It is all purposeful play,” said Tracy Gibson, the coordinator for Sandpoint’s Ready! for Kindergarten program. “Parents love it.”

Both Gibson and Marcia Wilson, the executive director for Panhandle Alliance for Education, emphasize that the program is not about telling adults how to parent their children; and they are not trying to create super kids either.

Instead, the goal is to bring parents into the educational process for a lifetime, encouraging them to ask questions that will enable them to carry over to the family setting what is being taught in the classroom. Teachers, who are paid a small stipend, model what parents should do to make the interaction fun and educational.

Gibson said that research shows that children learn best when they feel safe and secure and at play.

“Parents are the children’s first teachers and home is their first classroom,” said Gibson.

When Lake Pend Oreille School District Superintendent Dick Cvitanich came to Sandpoint a few years ago, Wilson approached him and asked what Panhandle Alliance could do that would have a large impact on area school children. Cvitanich recommended an early childhood development program. Having worked in Washington state, Cvitanich said that Kennewick School District had the highest test scores in Washington – an amazing figure considering many of the children there are immigrants for whom English is a second language.

“He said something is happening there that is working,” said Wilson. They found out that the “something” was the Ready! for Kindergarten program.

When they started the program last year, the goal was to enroll 50 families. They ended up with more than 100.

“In the spring we were turning people away because we were full,” said Gibson, who adds that determining their maximum capacity is based on space, not money.

“Parents see the value of the program, and also walk away with tools including books and toys to use,” said Wilson.

Each of the three 90-minute sessions focuses on a specific topic. The fall class, which is Oct. 24, focuses on reading; the class offered in the winter will focus on math and in the spring it emphasizes social and emotional growth. Currently the class, which is free of charge, is available only for parents of children who live in the geographical boundaries of Lake Pend Oreille School District.

The socioeconomic status of those who attend is diverse. Gibson said attendees include doctors as well as young single mothers. But whoever attends is sure to come away with knowledge and tools that will last long beyond the preschool years.

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