When you’re small, emotions like anger and fear can feel huge.  And scary.

One of our STAR Kids Educators, Loretta Willis, was recently in a Head Start class presenting a lesson called, “When Someone’s Mad – But Not at you.” A puppet named Keisha talked about how her Mom and Dad argued.  After they finished arguing, Keisha’s Mom started yelling at her. Keisha didn’t know what she had done wrong.

“At this point, a child in the class started crying,” said Willis.

At first Willis thought maybe the child was hurt, or in a disagreement with another child.

As Willis tried to figure out what made the girl cry, the Head Start teacher said, “this hits home for her.”

The teacher moved to sit beside the girl and helped her calm down.

Willis continued the lesson.

“I asked the class, ‘what could you do if adults are arguing and you need to get out of the way or find a safe place to go?’” said Willis.

 

The child who had been crying was now calm.  She raised her hand and shared with the class.

“Grandma lives next door. I go there when Mom and Dad are arguing.”

“This four-year-old child, not only had a plan when things got scary at home, she had the confidence and words to verbalize it to the class,” said Willis.

Through the tools the girl had learned through STAR Kids, she knew how to recognize and process fear without acting out in negative ways, a key goal of social-emotional learning.

How STAR Kids Works

Research has shown that children’s ability to effectively manage their full range of emotions—also known as self-regulation—is one of the most important factors for success in school, work and relationships throughout their lives.  The ReadyKids STAR Kids Program empowers at-risk children with these critical self-regulation skills.

The program’s main tool is three puppets and the Al’s Pals curriculum.  The Al’s Pals curriculum shows statistically significant improvements in positive, helpful behaviors and social independence.

The puppets – Al, Ty and Keisha – talk together in 46 different 10-to-15-minute lessons about anything from avoiding tobacco to using kind words.  The lessons give real-life application of the concepts of resilience and peaceful problem solving.

It’s just one way ReadyKids helps get kids ready for school, ready for relationships and ultimately ready for life.

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Being a new mom is hard, but it doesn’t have to be with the right support.  The ReadyKids Healthy Families program fosters nurturing family relationships for pregnant moms and safe environments for young children.  The Family Support workers can answer questions, offer resources, or be a shoulder to cry on.

Combined, the Healthy Families three home visitors – Becca, Maria and Samira – are fluent in six languages and can support mothers who speak English, Spanish, Dari, Hindi, Farsi or Urdu.   Last year they served over 52 new mothers in the Charlottesville area.

Across these languages and cultures, one question emerges most frequently from the new moms they visit. Is my child getting enough to eat?  Newborn crying can mean a lot of things.  But, none plagues a new mother’s heart more than the worry that their child may be hungry.

Is My Baby Getting Enough to Eat?

“We get a lot of questions from new moms about eating,” said Maria Lopez-Carbajal, a Healthy Families Family Support Worker. “Whether the baby is breastfed or formula fed, they worry about how much is enough or too much. Especially if they are first time moms or if older generations are pushing them to feed solids early.”

The Healthy Families workers have training in newborn and early childhood development, which gives them the tools to answer a worried mom’s questions.

“We respond to these questions by talking about on demand feeding and recognizing the baby’s hunger cues,” said Becca Mays, another Healthy Families Support Worker. “If they are worried about whether the baby is getting enough to eat, we encourage them to count the number of wet and poopy diapers.  Output is a good indication of input.”

“A lot of what we do is normalizing a new mom’s feelings and worries,” said Samira Khairkhawa.

If you or someone you know could benefit from a Healthy Families home visitor, refer yourself to us through our online self referral system.  We would be happy to talk with you!

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NBC News ranked the Aug. 11 and 12 rallies in Charlottesville as one of the top 10 news stories of 2017.  The Atlantic rated the photo of protesters being hit by a car on 4th street the top news photo of the year.  For those of us living in Charlottesville, 2017 was a tense and stressful year, particularly for our children.

Athena Gould, Executive Director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Blue Ridge was moved to find ways to speak words of hope to Charlottesville’s children.  From this was born that #DearYoungPerson campaign.  Recently, ReadyKids was a recipient of dozens of #DearYoungPerson postcards.  They came from Louisiana, New York, Texas, Illinois, Mississippi, Florida and even as far away as Norway.  Each one had touching words of inspiration and light.  These postcards now hang in the ReadyKids waiting room where children in the Inside Out program, who have experienced trauma, can read them.

If you also need a pick-me-up, take some time to read what beautiful people all around the country took the time to say to hurting kids.  It’ll make you believe the world is a good place again.

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Our ReadySteps program encourages parents as a child’s first and best teacher through early learning playgroups within five communities around Charlottesville.  If there is one thing ReadySteps staff have learned in the process, it’s what kids like to play with.

This list contains seven toys that can be bought or made for less than $10, but still have huge educational opportunity.  Five of them can be bought from local Charlottesville businesses or from Amazon Smile, where a percentage of your proceeds will come back to ReadyKids! The last two can be made at home with free or easy-to-find materials!

Everyone at ReadyKids is so grateful to be a part of this community.  We wish you and yours a happy holiday season!

Five Gifts Under $10 Preschoolers will LOVE:

1. Play Food

The benefits of toy food for child development have been enumerated.  Not only does playing with toy food help kids differentiate colors and shapes, it can also teach responsibility and healthy habits.  Engaging in your child’s pretend play also builds your child’s language and social skills.  A social skill is anything that creates interaction and communication between people where social rules are communicated in verbal and nonverbal ways.  “Oh, what’s this you’ve brought me?  A tomato and an eggplant?  That looks delicious! Thank you!”  In those four sentences you’ve taught your child two new words (tomato and eggplant), manners (Thank you!) and how to interact with others.

 

2. Stickers

Every kid should play with stickers.  It helps to develop the pincer grasp (think of the fingers you use to “pinch,” that’s the pincer grasp), which will be useful for learning how to hold a pencil and write. Plus, the possibilities are endless with stickers – you can buy any color or character sticker to match your child’s interests.

3. Stacking & Sorting Toys

Sorting and stacking toys help young children to begin to understand math concepts, develop motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and creative thinking. And, they are so much fun!

 

4. Hopper Balls

Balls are a versatile gift that no matter what the age of the child, and can be used to develop gross motor skills.  Gross motor skills are larger movements your child makes with his arms, legs, feet, or his entire body – like crawling, running, and jumping.  Hopper balls are always a hit at ReadySteps playgroups.

5.  Tempera Sticks 

While regular paint may strike fear into the heart of any parent who desires a clean house, tempera sticks are all of the fun of painting without any brushes to clean.  Plus, they’re a unique way for little hands to develop fine motor and pre-writing skills.  Fine motor skills involve smaller movements that occur in the wrists, hands, fingers, feet and toes.

Two Homemade Gifts That Provide Hours of Entertainment:

 

1. Puffy paint 

ReadySteps makes this fun, textured paint to use during play groups.  You can make it at home too with equal parts shaving cream and glue. Add a few drops of food coloring and mix together with a paintbrush for colorful 3D art!

 

2. A Sensory Bin

In the first three years of life, kids learn less from what you say to them and more from what they experience through their senses (scent, touch, taste, sight, and hearing).  One easy way to provide a lot of sensory experiences in a short period of time is to create a sensory bin.  Find a large plastic box and fill it with materials that are interesting for a kid to touch.  There are so many options!  Rice, puff balls, beans, seeds, dried pasta, sand, rocks.  Let the kids have fun scooping, pouring, and raking!

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We’re smiling bashfully from ear to ear.  We’ve gotten a lot of positive attention lately!  Everyone at ReadyKids is passionate about the work they do, and we’re so glad our work contributes positively to our community.

Last week, our Executive Director, Jacki Bryant, was interviewed for the CBS19 Community Counts Segment.  This week, ReadyKids’ hard working teams of InsideOut, ReadySteps, and Child Care Quality were featured on the local Charlottesville news last night in two separate stories.

InsideOut Receives Heal Charlottesville and Concert for Charlottesville Funds

We are proud to announce publicly that we are one of the proud recipients of donations from the Concert for Charlottesville and the Heal Charlottesville Fund of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.  This summer, partly due to the trauma of the Aug. 12 rally, our wait list for trauma counseling climbed to over 54 kids.  These funds from CACF will go towards hiring an additional trauma counselor to meet the needs of our city’s youth.

Click on the photos to be led to the CBS19 video with Shannon Noe, the program manager for our counseling programs.

 

ReadySteps and Child Care Quality Featured in Reporting on Affordable Childcare

As the cost of child care in Charlottesville rises, more parents are forced to chose between affordability and quality. ReadyKids wants to make sure that this decision is less painful for parents.  Whether you choose to opt out of the workforce and stay home with your children while they’re little or you go back to work but feel nervous about child care options – there is a ReadyKids program for you.
For those at home with kids, ReadyKids ReadySteps program brings regular early learning playgroups to children and their caregivers in their home communities.  ReadySteps teaches parents how to be their child’s first teacher, helps families connect with other families in the community, and helps families gain access to a support system that grows with their child.  They currently meet in five different Charlottesville neighborhoods including Agnor Hurt, Friendship Court, Greenstone on 5th, Southwood, and Westhaven.
For parents working outside of the home, ReadyKids Child Care Quality program improves the quality of early child-care and preschool settings by offering coaching, training and support to early childhood teachers and directors.  If you are in need of resources to find affordable, quality child care in Charlottesville, check out this list of resources compiled by the Child Care Quality team.
Click on the picture of Shannon Banks, ReadySteps Program Manager, or Gail Esterman, Child Care Quality Program Manager, to be linked to the CBS19 story on the riding cost of childcare in Charlottesville.

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ReadyKids Teen Counselors, Jordan Leahy and Dee Keller.

They ran away from home.  The Virginia State Police reports that 74 juveniles were arrested within the city of Charlottesville during 2015 for running away from home.

The word “home” connotes feelings of nurturance and safety, but that’s not true for everyone.  Can you imagine feeling like there was no other way to solve your problems than to leave home?

The teen years are difficult.  This is even truer if there are disruptions in the family such as divorce or remarriage, substance use or abuse.  Every day, ReadyKids’ two teen counselors – Dee Keller and Jordan Leahy – are in the community meeting with teens and families to help keep teens safe and off the streets.

A Q & A with Ready Kids Teen Counselors

Q:  What does the Teen Counseling Program at ReadyKids do?

Dee:  The Teen Counseling Program helps local teens and their families find stability. We are a short-term counseling program – on average about 3 months – that support teens who are facing a wide range of challenges and are vulnerable to running away or being kicked out of their homes.

Q: What does a crisis situation look like for a teen?

Dee: This could look like teens or families experiencing feelings of being overwhelmed and at a loss of what to do next; there may be high tension or conflict at home or even teens that are looking for a space to process all the stressors of their lives.

Jordan:  For teens, a crisis is a pretty inclusive term. It could mean everything from feeling overwhelmed by a disagreement with a friend, to witnessing or experiencing domestic violence or abuse in the home.

Q: What does the Teen Counseling Program provide for teens and their families? 

Dee: We provide access to counseling by being flexible in meeting teens at school, in-home, our office or the community. We not only provide individual or family counseling, but also a 24/7 hotline to teens, families or professionals looking for support, guidance or connections to other community supports.

Q: How does the work of the Teen Counseling Program contribute to the future of Charlottesville?

 Dee: We hope that the work of TCP impacts Charlottesville by creating more connections and promoting safer environments for our teens and families. We hope that teens feel they are not alone in the challenging moments and that they feel more stable and ready to take the next steps in their journeys.

Jordan: The city’s youth are the city’s future. TCP supports them by helping them build resilience in times of struggle, so that they can do the same in their relationships and communities in the future.

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It’s 8 p.m. on a dark, rainy Thursday night in October. Eighteen men and women of all ages and races gather in the Education Center of ReadyKids in Charlottesville.  They all have one thing in common – they watch other people’s children for a living.  They are tired from working a full day.  One drinks a large soda to stay awake.  Another loudly clicks a pen while blinking her eyes and yawning.  Despite their exhaustion they’ve come to this Child Development Associate (CDA) class to improve their skills.

“I was thinking it was going to be common sense material, but actually coming and doing the modules I’ve learned to professionally grow as a better teacher,” said Cheri Paschall, a 3-year-old teacher at Barrett Early Learning Center.  “I’ve learned that free play is a better way of learning, and by doing this I’ve found more confidence in myself.”

The ReadyKids Child Care Quality program provides a free CDA class to child care providers in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area or for those whose employers enrolled in Virginia Quality.  It’s a rigorous 13 module program that is self-paced and teaches about everything from effective behavior management to how to plan a healthy meal a child will eat.

“This is a very good resource for people who want to do better, want to be better,” said Ayana Alexander, a 2-year-old teacher at Barrett Early Learning Center.

Though the average salary for an early childhood educator in Virginia is around $20,000 – about the same amount as the Federal Poverty Level for a family of 3 – for these men and women their jobs are more than just a paycheck.  They are building Charlottesville’s future.

When asked, “how does your work contribute to the future of Charlottesville?” their passion and professionalism come through.

“With everything that’s going on lately, it’s had people on edge … There are a lot of kids who sadly don’t have the same opportunity to love and grow and feel like they’re in a nurtured environment where they know they are safe, they’re loved and they can be themselves.  Even though they’re two-years-old right now, they will carry with them the thought that, ‘I’m somebody, I’m important, I can be cared for, I can be what I want to be when I grow up.’  I feel it when I walk in the door.”
Ayana Alexander, 2-year-old teacher at Barrett Early Learning Center

 

“We give them the tools to learn. We give them the hunger to learn. We give them the permission to learn. Yes, it’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay to make messes. It’s okay to tear things apart and put them back together … if we don’t stretch their brains now there is not going to be very much to stretch later.”
Katherine Cashatt, Toddler teacher at Covesville Child Development Center

 

“We provide them with the information, the care, the love, the support that they need to become the little people they are growing up to be.  Without that love, care and support then they might not see that if they weren’t learning it at day care.”
Brittani Collier, Preschool teacher at UVA Child Development Center

 

“I am partnering with my parents and we are trying to provide an environment for these precious little beings to become healthy, independent, contributing individuals to their families, communities and society at large through our loving, nurturing and stimulating environment for them to grow up and build their self esteem, so they can provide that for others.”
– Vanessa Coles, Infant & Toddler In-Home Child Care Provider

 

“I feel like I have a good impact on the children that I teach.  When they get older what I’ve taught them can help them have a bright future. I give them the opportunity to explore more, let them have a say in lesson planning to drive what their interests are.  They can feel that they are important in the classroom.”
Cheri Paschall, 3-year-old teacher at Barrett Early Learning Center

 

Help ReadyKids continue to improve the quality of Early Childhood Education in the Charlottesville community. Though the CDA class is paid for with grant money, many students can’t afford the books required.  $95 pays for a full set of books for an adult CDA student.

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We are touched by the generosity of W.E. Brown Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning and Electrical who chose ReadyKids as a recipient of their Giving Back program. Their thoughtfulness and financial support allowed us to make a 30-second ad informing the community about our work. The ad will air on CBS19 in Charlottesville through out the fall.

Don’t you agree that every child deserves the brightest future possible? Unfortunately, not all kids get that chance. ReadyKids makes sure every child, regardless of their circumstances, is ready to learn, ready for relationships and ultimately ready for life.

Won’t you do your part, too? Join us by participating, volunteering or donating.

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