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The first 5 years of a child’s life are critical for brain development and future success in their education. By the time they reach kindergarten, children in families with very low incomes are already 12 to 14 months behind in language and pre-reading skills compared to children in higher-income families, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Palmyra Borough has seen increasing need over the past 20 years, with poverty levels increasing from 4% to 10%. Access to preschool education has been a barrier to Kindergarten readiness for many children in our community. To address these needs and trends, the Palmyra Public Library provides a free preschool option for children in the Palmyra area. Last summer the Palmyra Public Library launched its Little Explorers Early Learning Outreach Classes.
Little Explorers Early Learning Outreach classes are available to children ages 3 – 5 and their caregivers. These classes explore literacy, STEM, fine and gross motor development and social interaction skills. The 6-8 week program is offered three times a year, during the summer, fall and winter to enable preschool-aged children to have a successful start in their educational journey.
Little Explorers Early Learning Classes help prepare these children for school and prevent families who can’t afford preschool from falling behind their peers in early childhood development. A child’s brain is 90% developed by the age of 5. An investment in the most formative years of a child’s life is making an investment in the future of our community.
United Way of Lebanon County’s $65,000 investment in the Palmyra Health & Education Collaborative helps to fund the Little Explorers Early Learning preschool-style classes, an after-school homework program for children in grades 3 through 8, nutritional food options for participating children and community navigation services to help connect families with other resources and social services. The Collaborative includes the Palmyra Public Library, The Phoenix Youth Center and the Caring Cupboard.
When COVID-19 hit the United States at the end of March, the winter session of the Little Explorers program was just ending. Palmyra Public Library staff had to think quickly to modify and adapt the program for the upcoming summer session given new public health restrictions and pivoted to an online model.
The virtual classes contained the same key educational elements that were present during the in-person classes. The Children’s Librarian, Amy Shaffer-Duong, began each class with the same warm-up song that was used during in-person classes, so children who attended the classes before were familiar with it. This added a comfort element to the virtual experience. After the warm-up, the theme and book for the day were introduced. Amy would read the story and then show children an extension activity they could do at home. These activities were picked up at the Library for families to complete together at home. While the classes were very different, the library has been able to continue providing these important literacy and educational classes to preschool children virtually through their Facebook page.
The activities have provided a welcome relief for exhausted parents and caregivers who are running out of ideas for socially distant entertainment. Many have expressed gratitude to the library for providing an activity that allows them to spend time with their preschooler doing important educational activities which they do not need to plan.
Families have been excited to come back each week to see what activity they can pick up to do at home together. It’s been a highlight for many children and caregivers to walk to the activity pickup table as soon as they enter the Library to see what they can take home that day. The Little Explorers Early Learning Class has provided a variety of activities that give children with the opportunity to increase Kindergarten readiness skills at home. Some of the activities have involved cutting, folding, writing and painting to continue improving motor skills in preschool students while they participate in the classes virtually.
The average number of views for each of the Little Explorers Early Learning Outreach classes this Fall was 210 per class, with 40 – 50 extension activities distributed through the Library’s indoors and curbside service each time.
The grandmother of one three-year-old Little Explorers Early learner who has been viewing the virtual classes and doing the extension projects with him, said the following about their experience: “Little Explorer’s Story Time with Miss Amy is a great experience for my grandson. The stories are interesting, and the follow-up learning activities are age appropriate and fun. Sharing their creations with her during a library visit builds his self-esteem!”
Even though the program has shifted to a virtual setting, the importance of providing it has not changed as children who previously were in a preschool may not be enrolled due to the pandemic. More children are now at home yet the goal of getting these preschoolers ready for Kindergarten remains. The Palmyra Public Library is working diligently to ensure that children can access preschool classes from home at no cost, until they can safely meet in-person again.
To help support local children like Jesus, donate to United Way of Lebanon County. Support for our social services are critical during this time of crisis. Your gift to United Way supports early education, youth development, adult and family stability, and basic needs like healthcare and housing for our local neighbors in need.