Rowan’s developmental program is a big hit
Smart Start Rowan
When Nina Williams, 19 months, goes to Play to Learn, she’s going to play, but her grandmother, Ruth Neely Williams, sees the visits very differently.
Play to Learn is a Smart Start Rowan program that offers enriched learning environments for children birth to age 5 who are not in organized child care. For many children, the program is their first exposure to group play.
“It’s a great pre-school learning experience,” said Laura Villegas, director of programs at Smart Start Rowan. “We offer developmentally appropriate play and circle time, which helps children become accustomed to working with teachers and being with other children.”
That involvement with other children is vital to Williams. “Nina’s an only child,” she said. “Her mother works, and she’s with me all day long. It’s important for her to have interaction with other children, to have other kids to play with. Plus she’s learning to share.”
Williams is convinced that Nina will be better prepared for school because of her Play to Learn experiences. “She is learning so much,” she said. “The kids are gluing and pasting, cutting with scissors, playing with balls, learning their colors ó every week they’re doing something different, learning different things.”
The grandmother takes Nina to three sessions each week, traveling to different locations for the most benefit. “Nina needs to be with children her own age,” Williams added.
Although Melissa Calvert has two children close to the same age, she takes them to sessions each week for the experience. In fact, the family schedules their week around Play to Learn.
“My kids love it,” she said. “They’re all about coming here,” she said of Emma, 5, and Abby, 4. “It’s their favorite day of the week; there are so many things for them to do. They would come every day.”
Calvert quit her outside job in November 2008 to stay home with her children while they are small, but “I don’t want them to be stuck at home. I want them to have experiences.”
Their time in Play to Learn has been valuable, the mother said. After 11 months of sessions, “I can tell that they’ve flourished. They actually sit still for story time!”
Both girls love when the coordinator reads to the group and are learning to read on their own. “Abby took a book to bed with her last night and read quite a bit of the book herself,” the proud mother said.
Calvert and Brenda Lee, another Salisbury mother, see benefits for themselves at Play to Learn as well as their children. “It’s important for moms to get out and talk to other moms,” Lee said.
She takes her 3-year-old son Andrew every week to a session. “He gets excited about coming,” she said, “but it’s an outlet for both of us.”
Andrew has learned to socialize, share and wait his turn in the few months he’s attended sessions. “Sharing is so tough at this age,” Lee said, “and these groups are very helpful with that. He’s learning to play in a group environment and to control his emotions” when another child wants the same toy.
“I tell everybody I know about the program,” said Williams. “It’s a wonderful program.” Lee agrees. “It’s a wonderful resource – and it’s free!”
Smart Start Rowan’s Play to Learn provides a free enriched developmentally appropriate learning environment for children birth to age 5 and their primary caregiver. A group coordinator presents materials and activities to aid in the development of physical, cognitive and social skills during 90-minute sessions around the county. Each playgroup has child-directed play and circle time that includes music, movement and reading experiences.
Caregivers participate with their child or children and also receive information on child development, ideas for activities at home and other community resources.
Play to Learn sessions are currently held at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Salisbury, Faith Baptist Church in Faith, Concordia Lutheran Church in China Grove and Grace Lutheran Church in Salisbury. For more information on Play to Learn, contact Laura Villegas at (704) 603-3368.