Playing their way to Success by 6

Published 8:59 pm Monday, June 4, 2018

Success by 6 began its Summer Play program on Monday with crafts, stories, songs and snacks inspired by popular children’s author Eric Carle.

Success by 6 is under United Way, and it works with preschool age children to improve literacy and other skills — like following directions — that children need in order to succeed in kindergarten. 

“It helps them be better prepared to start school,” said Gail Gordon, the certified teacher who leads the program. “It is an opportunity for them to leave their moms or for their moms to leave them and them to be left independently. It is an opportunity for them to learn some whole group [skills], like how to sit and listen in a group and how to follow directions. We do cutting and painting and listening. It is a little pre-preparation for when they start school.”

The summer program has been in place for 10 years, and this year it will spend two weeks in the nonprofit section of Bank of America building and two weeks at Maidee Smith Early Care and Learning Center. The summer program does charge a small fee, but Gordon said parents get a lot for that money.

“They get supplies, like today they took home the book, ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ and a ‘Read with Me’ bag,” Gordon said. “The theme for this whole month is Eric Carle and his books. This week we are focusing on ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar,’ but they heard two or three other Eric Carle books today.”

The children also got to take part in songs about the books they read. 

“We are learning about butterflies, so I know a song about a caterpillar,” said Pam Vaughn, one of the teachers over the program. “Then I teach a little bit of sign language to them because I know a little of that.”

Additionally, the children made crafts which can develop skills like spelling, following directions and cutting, which develops fine motor skills.

“They made a caterpillar using large marshmallows dipped in paint, and then we did a symmetrical butterfly, where we dripped paint and folded the butterfly in half after they cut it out,” Gordon said. “They did a caterpillar with the individual letters of their names.”

Another teacher involved in the program, Tracy Peterson, said that she has seen the program impact the students that she sees in her first-grade class at Callaway Elementary School.

“I have one little boy who I just had this year, and he was one of ours a couple of years ago, and he came in, and he knew the routine,” Peterson said. “My grandson has also come through this, so building that routine with them [is important].”

The program does depend on local support to make it possible, since parents at the summer program only pay for the cost of supplies, not facilities or staff.

“It used to be that the school system supplied three certified teachers, and now I work with United Way and Pam Vaughn works with United Way, and we are both certified teachers, and we hire one more person, Tracy Peterson, who is a certified teacher,” Gordon said. “Success by 6, United Way has to pay her. We have to pay all the supplies. We have to order the books because they will get book bags.”

The biggest lesson under the program for parents is universal to the point that anyone can easily and cheaply apply it at home every day, and the program encourages parents to do just that.

“One of the things [that I talk about with parents] is reading to their kids every day,” Gordon said. “You cannot have too many books but having books in the home and reading to them and talking to them, singing with them — it builds language, and it will help to them talk about letters, talk about sounds. When they go to the grocery store, if they pick up a box of cereal and look for the sounds, the letters or the colors, shapes. You cannot talk to them too much.”

Success by 6 also hosts a free program during the school year called Sound of the Week (formerly Letter of the Week), which meets on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The program provides resources and a learning environment for children not enrolled in a Pre-K program.

“It is for children who didn’t get in Pre-K and some of them homeschool their children, some of them just didn’t get in and they just stay home with grandma all the time, and they come here on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.,” Vaughn said. “So, that is what I do throughout the year is go to Maidee Smith and teach them songs and read books or [help with] whatever they are working on.”

The certified teachers who lead the weekly program hope to prepare the 3 and 4-year-olds in the program for school.

“With me having taught Pre-K for so long, I know what they need to know, and my Pre-K-ers were almost reading or reading by the time they got to kindergarten,” Vaughn said. “They get a lot of good things here, and we also give them packets to take home for parents to work with them at home.”

Parents can sign up for Sound of the Week using a flier that can be found on the Success by 6, United Way of West Georgia Facebook page. The flier is also sent home with children by the TCSS.