When Danielle laughs, everyone laughs!
Danielle Hamlin works here in rural, western Maine connecting low-income families to Head Start programs for Community Concepts, a local non-profit, and doing everything she can to make the lives of kids in low-income homes better. That’s how Team Long Run found her.
Through a connection with a local food bank, TLR started collaborating with local Head Starts. When we asked, “How can we help?” The answer came back loud and clear,
“Get books into kids’ homes where there aren’t any.”
We all know that books in the home is a decisive factor in whether a child develops early literacy skills. Low-income parents simply don’t have the extra income it takes to buy books.They also are often hesitant about books and have issues with reading themselves, making libraries and books a negative rather than a positive in their lives, and their homes.
Enter Head Start. The focus in all Head Start programs is not just the child and their readiness for kindergarten, but the child’s family environment as well. Encouraging early reading and motor skills is part of the mission of Head Start programs and finds an enthusiastic cheerleader in Danielle.
“Kids need to be active, and it helps them learn if they can run around a lot. It’s weird, but it’s true!” she says.
“Team Long Run gives us books that go home with our classroom kiddos (4-5 year-olds) and then they can tell their mom or dad what the book is about. That’s because they already know all about the book, because they’ve read it in their Head Start classroom! It’s awesome!”
This collaboration between TLR and Head Start’s national OWL curriculum enables families to get the books their kids are excited about into their “home libraries.” It may even be the full extent of that library for some families.
But little kids have trouble sitting still, don’t they? “Yes, they do,” says Danielle.
Sizzle and Pop developed by Team Long Run Founder, and former Cross Country and Track coach, Chuck Wilcoxen, Sizzle and Pop addresses the need for kids to be active WHILE learning. A short “motor break” can jump start a child who is losing interest and calm an overly active child down, allowing both to be ready to learn.
Fun, illustrated cards and posters allow children in Head Start classrooms to choose the activity they want to do. The Octopus is a favorite (waving your arms in all directions. As is “The Flamingo” (standing on one leg and then the other and trying balance). These quick motor breaks can be combined (there are six in all and continue to be developed and refined) or a teacher can decide to just do one and move back to whatever academic activity they were involved in.
How does all this fit together you might ask. In fact, that’s what we at TLR asked as we developed Barclay’s Books and Sizzle and Pop. The answer came from another Head Start professional, Serena Bissonette. She encouraged us to develop a “social story” that wove active play and reading together in one theme. Enter Barclay, a book loving dog who also loves to run and play. We have written and produced six Barclay social stories and added age-appropriate activities and parent tips which are all part of our Activity Books. We’ve done bilingual booklets in Spanish and French and are currently using the OWL curriculum book that is given to the child in the same bag as the focus of the parents Tips and even of Barclays’ story. We also drop in some Sizzle and Pop activities into each booklet as well as a QR code that takes parents and kids to videos of what the activities look like.
Families tell us that their kids love Barclay and look forward to the next installment of his adventures. By weaving active play and early literacy into what Head Start kids are reading and doing (Sizzle and Pop) at school, we are finding that learning goes deeper and becomes more engaging, as well as involving the families in ways that include them and encourage their active involvement at home.