Friday, January 31, 2014

Giving Kids a Head Start

Since 1997, the Museum has served nearly 20,000 preschoolers in greater Providence Head Start – a critical part of our AmeriCorps-based outreach to children and families in need. 

Head Start is a federally funded program, created to combat poverty, that provides low-income children ages 3 to 5 and their families with a range of comprehensive services to support school readiness, health and emotional growth.  The Museum’s long-standing and successful collaboration with greater Providence Head Start (administered by Children’s Friend since 2009) was developed in response to a need expressed by Head Start administrators: for kids to have rich educational experiences in a hands-on environment.

A team of AmeriCorps members, led by our early childhood learning specialist, serves 1,000 Head Start children in more than 50 classrooms each year.  They design and deliver developmentally appropriate, hands-on activities that seek to strengthen children’s social and emotional development – their curiosity, initiative, social skills and sense of their own competence as learners.  Classroom activities vary, depending upon the needs and interests of Head Start teachers and administrators.

For the past few years, AmeriCorps members have presented activities that align with a Children’s Friend initiative to celebrate diversity.  In one imaginative lesson, members read a story about skin color and followed it with a color mixing activity, during which children enthusiastically created and named their own new paint shades.  By presenting engaging activities that support school readiness and early literacy, the team simultaneously creates a memorable learning experience for children and models effective techniques for teachers; they also provide teachers with a packet of activities to build on Museum lessons.  In addition, Museum educators lead trainings for all Head Start teachers and teacher aides.  Teachers come away with an assortment of new ideas, methods and materials, which they continue to use in their classrooms year after year.

After visiting each classroom, AmeriCorps members guide children’s joyful exploration during Museum field trips.  This is the first experience at a children’s museum for many, but it won’t be their last.  The Museum also hosts family nights for all of the Head Start centers – festive evenings for children and their families to play, learn and have dinner together. Wednesday was our third family night of the season, and we welcomed a remarkable 440 children and families from Providence’s Dean, Varone and Carter Head Start centers! Family night attendees receive free year-long Museum admission passes, enabling them to visit together as often as they’d like.  Family support is vital to young children’s development and learning, and family nights and free admission ensure important family engagement.

We are committed to being accessible to all children and families.  Strong, mutually respectful partnerships like the one with Children’s Friend Head Start make it possible to reach families who need the Museum most.

“I am so impressed with the Museum’s commitment to
vulnerable kids living in the urban core.”

– Aimee Mitchell, Director of Head Start, Children’s Friend
The Museum's AmeriCorps program is made possible by a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service and Serve Rhode Island, with support from additional Head Start program sponsors.

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