Playing and learning at school-sponsored play group

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 18, 1999

DEBBIE MUSTIAN / L’Observateur / December 18, 1999

There’s a popular spot in Norco where preschoolers like to hang their hats, and it’s conveniently nestled on the grounds of Norco K-3 Elementary School.

An enthusiastic group of young children, along with their parents, meets Friday mornings in a preschool haven filled with toys, books, puppets and kids at the Norco K-3 Title I Parent Center. During part of the one-hoursession the children are involved in supervised play time while their parents visit with other adults. Then, there are organized activities forboth the children and their parents to participate in together, like singing songs or making a craft or snack.

Although the preschool group is affectionately called the Norco K-3 Play group, there’s actually a lot of learning taking place. Essentially, thepreschoolers end up having an educational good time, without even realizing they are advancing and developing along the way.

The group, led by Title I Family Literacy teacher Becky Weber, has been going strong for about a year. Right now the weekly play group has grownto average about 15 to 20 attendees each week. Those who participategenerally have other children attending Norco K-3 or they plan to send their youngsters to school there.

There’s no mystery surrounding the success and popularity of the program; learning is portrayed as a fun activity for both parents and children.

“We’re getting children ready to go to kindergarten,” Weber explained, “by teaching basic early literacy and helping them to build relationships.””We also teach things parents can do with their children when they get back home without having to go out and buy a lot of things,” she added. Forexample, during a recent holiday-theme play group meeting parents learned how to make a peanut butter reindeer sandwich to share with their children. Parents and children worked together to place the pretzelantlers, raisin eyes and red-hot noses properly in place. The activity wasso successful, it’s sure to be repeated at home throughout the holidays.

The play group has already built a fine reputation among the parents who support and participate in the program. For example, one parent took herpreschooler out of a neighboring day care facility just so he could attend the weekly play group at Norco Elementary.

“We’ve been coming since last year,” Jeannine Harjo said. “My son, Derick,used to cry when he had to go to day care, but he loves coming here.”Derick, 4, is one of the play group’s best “customers.” His mother said heloves to check out books and interactive activities from the play group’s resource library, which includes everything from sing-along videos and flash cards to puppets and computer games for activities at home.

Members of the play group also have access to the center’s computer and the Internet. Family and educational sites are posted on signs above thecomputer for easy and “safe” referrals once the Internet is accessed. Playgroup participants may also use the center’s laminating machine.

The Norco K-3 Play group is a federally-funded program.

“I had to apply to Title I for funding and approval,” Weber said. As long asthere’s interest and support in early educational intervention, Weber said there will be continued support and funding for the program.

One of the main goals of the play group is to reassure parents about the importance of their roles as teachers.

“Every parent is their child’s first teacher,” Weber said. “The more onebonds with their child, the better the child will do in school.”Lisa Vellier is one of many parents in the group who enjoys the special time she spends with her son Colin, 3, during the play group’s sessions.

“We’ve been coming since last year,” Vellier said. “Colin enjoys beingaround other children and we are both learning things.” Vellier said sheknows Colin is learning and growing thanks to his participation in the K-3 Play group because he talks about the experience once he gets home.

A truly positive aspect of the play group, Vellier said, is Weber’s home visits. “Becky comes to visit us at home,” she said. “She’ll drop offthings, bring things to us.”Weber said home visits are important because a teacher receives additional information about each child and his home life.

The Norco K-3 Play group meets most Friday mornings from 9:30 -10:30.

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