ReadyKids Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month
Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. It celebrates the long and important presence of people in the United States whose ancestry can be traced back to Spain, Mexico, the Carribean, and Central and South America.

At ReadyKids, 16% of our participants are Hispanic or Latino. That’s about 1,440 Latino children, families and early childhood educators in the Charlottesville-area who have been impacted by ReadyKids. We honor them this month by telling their stories. Three stories from three different ReadyKids programs will highlight both the stress and resilience of the Latino community in and around Charlottesville.

KAROLINA’S STORY

Karolina with two children on her lap The first story this month is from ReadySteps’ Bilingual Family Coordinator, Karolina Medina. ReadySteps brings educational playgroups to six of Charlottesville’s most diverse communities to encourage parents as a child’s first and best teacher. For Medina, she identifies with both the stress and the resilience of the greater Latino community with which she works.

Even though she has been in the United States for over 13-years, her parents live in her native country of Venezuela. Venezuela is a once oil-rich country that is now run by a dictator and on the brink of economic collapse. It’s painful to think of her family who is still there.

“In Venezuela no one can find anything they need. It’s frustrating because children are hungry. They’re not going to school. Children who need medical attention in the hospital die, because there isn’t help. No one can save these little ones,” said Medina.

“The only people who are surviving in Venezuela are people with families like mine, with people in the United States who can help. We send them money so they can buy the basics. At this point, even an egg is a luxury in Venezuela. Everything is extremely expensive. How do you live like that? That’s why people are leaving. That’s why people are willing to come by themselves and leave their families behind, so they can send something back to help. But it’s still a separation. It’s very hard. Nothing is easy.”

Latina mom and daughter in ReadySteps group
Even though Medina works hard to support her family in Venezuela, she doesn’t let the struggles of her home country keep her from encouraging and supporting families here in the United States as well.

A (BILINGUAL) LISTENING EAR

For Medina, the one thing she feels she can offer to lessen the sense of isolation and fear Latino immigrants experience is a listening ear.

“Having bilingual staff is one of the best things ReadyKids has done to reach out. They help people not feel alone,” said Medina.

“A lot of moms, at least in my case, tell me a lot about their personal lives. They see that someone listens to them and understands them who works with an American agency. The work that we’re doing to let them know what resources they have access to helps.”

LAUGHTER CREATES TRUST

With Medina’s work with ReadySteps, she interacts with people from a variety of diverse backgrounds. She has seen that even the English-speaking ReadySteps workers have gotten creative on ways to interact with families who arrive at playgroups with English as a second language.

“They figure out how to communicate,” said Medina. “Working with a little bit of English, and sign language, they figure out how to laugh together. This helps a lot. Laughter helps them grow close to us, and to trust us. They know that they matter, just as they are – with their personality, with their language, with their heritage. They see that ReadyKids is a place that will help their children.”

Hope. Laughter. Companionship. Is there anything else that makes stressful times more bearable? The safe community that ReadySteps creates allows Latino families to be completely themselves, even in the midst of struggles and especially during Hispanic Heritage Month.

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Build Friendship, Find Your Village

A cardboard box turned make believe boat fills Jesse Gandy’s living room. Books and educational toys line every shelf. A pet bullfrog croaks from a terrarium in the dining room. Gandy’s second grade daughter, Austin, recites the staples of a frog diet, and how they use even their eye muscles to swallow insects whole. But it’s Taj, Gandy’s three-year-old son, who lights up when he hears his mom talking about ReadySteps.

“My school!” he says. “I dress up in goggles, like a construction worker!” he blurts out with a mouth filled with animal crackers, pantomiming goggles on his eyes.

The Gandy family moved to Charlottesville from Texas two years ago to work for the International Rescue Committee (IRC). As a family with young kids, they found it hard to build a community as tight as what they had left in Texas. They needed a proverbial village to help them raise their children far away from family. Walking through the halls of the IRC, Gandy saw a poster for ReadySteps.

Now, every Monday and Friday morning at 10 a.m., Jesse and Taj walk the few blocks from their home to the community center at the Greenstone on Fifth housing development for their ReadySteps group. When they arrive, tables in the community center each have a different activity. There is a table of magna-tiles to support color identification and conceptual building skills. Another table filled with squishy moon sand gives kids a unique tactile experience. On the floor is a soft tile floor mat for infants to practice crawling.

A TYPICAL READYSTEPS GROUP

Taj Gandy with Mayra Reynolds, a ReadySteps teacher. Most of the other families walking in the door of the community center don’t look like the Gandy family, who is white. There is a woman in a colorful African Kente cloth dress carrying a baby on one hip and a toddler on the other. One petite woman walks in speaking in the quick clip of an Asian language. Her daughter gravitates to the moon sand table to roll out long snakes with her little toddler hands.

“I was glad it was a diverse group of people from all incomes,” said Gandy. “We’ve met a lot of neighbors, and we get together with those people outside of group for play dates. I built a community here far quicker by having ReadySteps right down the street.”

But, ReadySteps isn’t quite a school, as Taj describes. For one thing, it’s free to participants, which can’t be said about most preschools in Charlottesville. For another, parents stay with their kids the entire time. Also, there are five locations throughout Charlottesville, each set up for just a few hours per week and brought from place to place packed tightly into small cargo vans.

“We’re not a preschool, but we’re also not just a meet up or a social hour,” said Shannon Banks, ReadySteps Program Manager. “It’s community building. We’re this hybrid, like a free quasi-co-op preschool. It’s all built on trust and relationships. We have a full curriculum and routine so people can plug in at any location.”

EARLY EDUCATION IS CHANGING

Here’s a statistic that may surprise you. Since the year 2000 there has been a constant and steady rise of mothers exiting the workforce. For low and middle-income households, the reason is usually the same – the high cost of childcare. This year, in the state of Virginia, the average annual cost to send an infant to a year of day care was the same as the average annual cost to send a child to a year of college – around $10,867. For many families, it doesn’t make financial sense for both parents to go back to work during a child’s early years. Which leaves one parent at home – sometimes bored, lonely and on a tight budget.

ReadyKids noticed this trend. Local data showed an average of 225 children entering Charlottesville City and Albemarle County kindergartens were unprepared for school and in need of intervention services. The reason? Not enough kids were attending preschool.

For whatever reason, whether its economics or cultural dissonance, Kids Count data shows that half of 3 and 4-year-olds don’t attend preschool. That percentage has remained unchanged for over a decade. But exposure to other children and different sounds, sights and textures are crucial for little brains. The Center for Disease Control reports that 90% of a child’s brain physical volume develops as early as six years old.

The importance of the first years of a child’s life combined with the growing sense of isolation and loneliness in child-raising prompted ReadyKids to develop a new, innovative program. ReadySteps was born to encourage parents as a child’s first and best teacher through early learning playgroups within their home community.

The ReadySteps vans, filled with educational materials and early childhood toys, visit five neighborhoods around Charlottesville including Southwood, Greenstone on Fifth, Friendship Court, Park’s Edge Apartments and Greer Elementary School. ReadySteps rotates playgroups between these locations on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon.

COMMUNITY THROUGH FRIENDSHIP

An African-American Mother and Daughter playing a preschool color game. At the Friendship Court ReadySteps group, Renee Cooper can’t decide what’s the best part because “it’s all great.” She and her 4-year-old son Clayton started coming to ReadySteps groups five months ago after their doctor recommended it because Clayton had a speech delay.

“He loves it here,” said Cooper. “He’s grown a lot.”

Clayton, who is an only child, began making friends – something he had never done before.

“At first he would cry when he was around other people,” said Cooper. “Now he asks every day to come here.”

Cooper was proud to share that Clayton had gotten into Clark Elementary School’s 4-year-old preschool program and would start there in the fall, thanks to the help of ReadySteps staff who helped them apply and figure out enrollment forms.

Each ReadySteps group is staffed with two professional early childhood educators, a family coordinator and evidence-based early education materials. But, in talking to ReadySteps participants, it’s not the educational components that they value. It’s the other parents.

“The relationships that are formed through the ReadySteps playgroups are the foundation of the community we build,” said Margot Pleasants, a ReadySteps Group Leader. “These relationships are the backbone of any community, and facilitating them is the reason ReadySteps exists.”

A NEED ACROSS ALL INCOMES

Back at the Gandy home, Taj Gandy wrinkles his nose deep in thought, and details everything a construction worker wears.
“Glasses … a vest … a helmet,” he says, pointing to different parts of his body.

“In the last six months, I’ve seen his language explode,” said Gandy. “He’s learning how to express himself with other kids and share toys, even if there is a language barrier.”

Gandy says she tells everyone she meets about the ReadySteps groups.

“There really is a need across all incomes for the aspects ReadySteps provides, whether it’s networking with other moms, getting ready for school or just getting out of the house. There’s nothing else like this,” said Gandy.

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One simple shift that can improve your child's mental health this summer
Adapted from a presentation given by Matt Bukowski, MA LPC.

One of the parts of parenting no one quite prepares you for is the sheer number of worries. Are they eating enough? Is the car seat strap positioned correctly? Do we live in a good school district? For parents raising kids today, there is an added worry that previous generations never had to face – are they spending too much time on their phones?

The worries are real and warranted. In the case of smart phone use, more and more studies are linking increased screen time in kids and teens to increases in major depressive episodes and psychological distress. So much so that in 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released screen time recommendations for all children.

The APA recommends that children under 2 should almost never have screen time, and children between 2 and 5 should have less than an hour per day. Beyond school age, the APA recommends to “place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.”

It’s all a bit overwhelming for parents who just need to get their families through the day. For many, screen time is the carrot that gets kids and parents to complete basic daily tasks. Parents can get the laundry put away, or schedule a doctor’s appointment, or make dinner without interruption by propping their child in front of their favorite show or with the promise of some time on Fortnite. It’s easy. It’s accessible. But, at what cost?

Famous Low-Tech Parents

APA Screen Time Recommendations
Look no further than the tech giants themselves. Most of the people who created the screens our children spend hours looking into, don’t allow their children unlimited access to phones and tablets. Steve Jobs and Bill and Melinda Gates were low-tech parents. They limited screen time. They realized, perhaps before anyone else did, that consumer tech was addictive and possibly harmful to young brains. This is the very thing research is now proving.

Being low tech may be great for Jobs and Gates, who can afford housekeepers and nannies, but it doesn’t help the average modern parent’s dilemma of how to get the laundry done without a toddler meltdown. Or make that phone call? Or boil some water for spaghetti? What do those of us who don’t have extra help on hand do?

Switch it up for better mental health

There’s actually a cheap and easy solution, but it might be a hard sell for the kid who loves Minecraft. Research about child brain development points toward what our grandparents knew to be true – send kids outside. Sit on the front porch and make that phone call while they play hopscotch. Open the window and watch them in the backyard while you fold the laundry. Or, if you live in an area without easy access to green space, take a daily walk before bedtime, get the family some free bikes to ride to a park, or sign your kids up for free swim lessons.

Humans are meant to be outside. Green space, the fractal patterns of nature and the sounds of the wind in the trees have the opposite effect on the brain that screens do. While video games and social media give brains increasingly exciting rewards, nature calms a growing brain. And what do parents want more than calm?

In the short term, changing behaviors and family patterns away from the easy solutions of technology and toward more nature-based and lower-tech play may cause complaining. But, kids are adaptable. After they realize you are not changing your screen time limits, they will find a way to deal.

In the long term, the greater benefit is that your child’s brain develops with healthier adaptations. Instead of seeking greater and greater rewards, they will learn the skills of empathy, creativity and imagination that no computer or artificial intelligence in the future will be able to replace.

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Top 10 ReadyKids Moments of 2018

In our 97-year-history, each year at ReadyKids has been full of defining moments. 2018 is no exception. As we continue our day-to-day work with children and those who care for them, we also reflect on the accomplishments of the year. We feel so blessed to be a part of this wonderful community that has supported us over nearly a century!

Here are the ten fan favorite moments that you helped make happen at ReadyKids in 2018!

#10 – Helping Children Find Calm

Our STAR Kids educators visit local preschools and early childhood centers with puppets. Their child-friendly lessons teach self-regulation, problem-solving and safe choices. In February, a STAR Kids educator relayed this story. It’s about how a lesson gave a child the words to voice her home life.

#9 – ReadySteps, an Important Partner at Friendship Court and Beyond

ReadySteps encourages parents as a child’s first and best teacher. Through early learning playgroups within their home communities, parents get a chance to learn more about child development. Playgroups happen in five neighborhoods through out Charlottesville, including Friendship Court. ReadySteps works closely with parents to help children have strong, positive and nurturing relationships.

#8 – InsideOut Counseling Sneak Peek

InsideOut provides counseling to help kids and families who have experienced trauma begin the healing process. Shannon Noe, the program director for Youth Counseling, gives you a sneak peek into some of the stories our counselors hear from kids.

#7 – ReadyKids Reaches More Children, Families and Early Childhood Educators than Ever Before

In Fiscal Year 2018, ReadyKids reached 8,836 local kids, families and early childhood educators. Our participants are more diverse than ever. We also continue to lower the cost per participant, even while we increase participant satisfaction.

#6 – Aspen, the ReadyKids Therapy Dog, Wins the Red Cross Hero Award

Aspen is a black lab who has worked in over 200 therapy cases in InsideOut Counseling. Aspen provides a calming presence for kids who are exploring difficult topics. She is beloved not only among the children in our InsideOut program, but also by our staff!

#5 – Bilingual Book drive for ReadySteps and Healthy Families

ReadySteps and Healthy Families work with more than 175 participants who do not speak English as a first language. An important part of developing literacy skills is parents reading to their children. But, how can these parents do that in their native language? Many local donors gave to buy over 50 books in Dari, Farsi, and Spanish.

#4 – Charlottesville, A Year Later

The events of August 2017 in Charlottesville were deeply upsetting within our community. Our counseling staff offered ways to talk with and support children to cope with the difficult thoughts, emotions and behaviors the one-year anniversary might bring up.

#3 – Diaper Drive for Healthy Families

Throughout the year, donors like you have given thousands of diapers to our Healthy Families program. Healthy Families fosters nurturing family relationships for pregnant moms and safe environments for young children. No government benefits cover diapers. They are one of the top requests we get from families who are barely making ends meet. Thanks to you, if a new mom needs any size diaper, we can supply it for free!

#2 – Teen Counseling Crisis Line, A No-Cost Service for Charlottesville Area Families

In Fiscal Year 2018, 180 teens and parents called the ReadyKids Teen Counseling Crisis Hotline and over 3,500 people viewed information about the Hotline on Facebook. The ReadyKids Teen Counseling Program provides individual and family counseling to foster positive, nurturing family relationships to ensure that teens are healthy and safe.

#1 – Virginia lawmakers vote to require rear-facing car seats for kids 2 and under

In March, Virginia voted to join nine other states in requiring children under the age of 2 to be in rear-facing car seats. This came as a surprise to many participants and community members. It was the most shared story on our Facebook page this year. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children are 75% less likely to sustain serious injury in a rear-facing car seat.

What an eventful year it’s been! We can’t thank you enough for all you do to keep our programs running. We’re able to Open Doors to Bright Futures for Kids because of generous friends like you. We hope you continue to support ReadyKids in this new year!
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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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The ReadySteps program would love to add the following books to their collection to use during our early learning playgroups.  Used copies are welcome!  If you have one of these books to share, please contact Shannon Banks, sbanks@readykidscville.com

 

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In a staff meeting last week, all 50 of ReadyKids employees gathered in a conference room on swively office chairs to share stories of successes and struggles.  Photos of small children wearing backpacks as big as their bodies and beaming smiles appeared on a glowing screen.

The pictures were children who had completed the ReadySteps program and were headed to Kindergarten.  ReadySteps encourages parents as a child’s first and best teacher through early learning playgroups within their home community.

Last year ReadySteps helped 20 to 25 families register for school in Charlottesville City and Albemarle County. To help families with this process, the ReadySteps staff wrote letters of support, assisted parents with paperwork, and connected families to free medical and dental resources. Additionally, through participation in ReadySteps playgroups, these children learned key socialization skills, a routine, new songs and were exposed to new books. Caregivers learned how to support their child’s learning through play. Caregivers also gained confidence in understanding their child’s developmental milestones, which helped parents have more realistic expectations for their child.

Sending a child off to kindergarten is a bittersweet milestone.  ReadySteps walks with parents along that journey so their kids are ready to learn.

 

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