Early Childhood Play and Learn

In our early childhood programs at foundry10, we are interested in how to make creative preschool opportunities more accessible to children. For the last three years we’ve run a dramatic storytelling program with preschoolers in the traditional classroom and this year we added early movement/dance to a Head Start program. In an effort to expand from studying the impact of providing access to the arts in the traditional preschool classroom, we’re exploring an additional avenue of access: Preschool Play and Learn in a suburban district in the greater Seattle area.

Play and Learn is a free, two-hour long drop-in space with free play and circle time for preschool aged students and caregivers in the community. Children who attend, play and explore with other children in a semi-structured environment that allows for free-play as well as centers based, semi-structured activities. The entire group of parents, children and facilitating teachers come together at the end of the time for a large group activity. The Play and Learn model creates an environment for children to interact with one another and work on crucial early-childhood socialization. It also gives caregivers an opportunity to interact with other caregivers in their community and provides them with access to a certified instructor from the school district who understands developmental milestones and can suggest resources for their child’s development. The instructor facilitates the Play and Learn session but does not run the class like a traditional preschool. Academic skills are not specifically taught as for children, the goal is socialization and creative play opportunities, and for parents, it is forming a connection with and making them aware of other resources and opportunities for children.

This program is really important, and helps a lot of kids, but it and programs just like it are losing funding. Therefore, now more than ever, we need to understand the value of these sorts of programs so we can push harder to keep them. This year we ran one Play and Learn program in conjunction with the district. It met once a week from March through the end of May for an hour at a time. The program was offered at no cost to families and foundry10 covered the cost for the instructor. Through a brief questionnaire distributed to attending families as well as conversations with the instructor and other district leaders, we investigated whether the program provided families who do not attend traditional preschool an opportunity to connect with others in their community as well as giving them access to resources from the district to help with childhood development. We want to understand how a drop-in model, such as this, may provide a valuable resource for parents in our community.

We found that many first timers indeed returned to future sessions and that the majority of children who attended were not currently enrolled in preschool. We were pleased to see that the caregivers in attendance felt that this program offered opportunities for students, not enrolled in other programs, to develop social skills, interact with a teacher and engage in art, and work with materials not found at home. This program seems to be spread largely by word of mouth, although attendance overall was not as high as we had hoped throughout the duration of the three months. We are left wondering how to better engage other families in the community and district and how to promote awareness of this opportunity. One of the challenges is that because the program targets students who are not enrolled in preschool, they can be more difficult to locate and recruit, which at the same time, is largely why we want to connect with these families. As part of our efforts for the 2017-2018 school year, we are going to explore other community-based programs to better understand how they run, recruit and provide opportunities like this for families to connect. We feel there is inherent value in connecting with community members and preschoolers in a more informal, semi-structured setting and are committed to better understanding how to situate programs such as this, for the maximum benefit to the participating families.