The County Voice

Innovative Madera County Library Program Prepares Kids for Kindergarten

Innovative Madera County Library Program Prepares Kids for Kindergarten

In Madera County, nearly half of its residents live in rural, unincorporated areas with limited access to affordable, quality preschool and childcare options. And without quality options, parents and caregivers often lack the materials and support needed to effectively prepare their children for kindergarten.

Enter the Madera County Library’s Backpack Literacy Project.

With grant funding from First 5 Madera County, the County Library staff created a program to increase support of parents and caregivers as their child’s first – and most important – teacher. The Backpack Literacy Project provides opportunities for parent-child interactions and activities through a series of free workshops given in English and Spanish. Backpack kits that include books, craft supplies, flash cards and proposed activities are also handed out.

The goal of the program is to “increase literacy in the home and to help parents really engage with their kids with regards to literacy,” explains First 5 Madera County Program Manager Xochitl Villasenor.

Staff at five library locations were trained in early literacy techniques and facilitation to lead the workshops.

“The workshops might feel like a story time for the children; it’s really about modeling for parents tools and techniques for engaging with their children and creating really positive, language-rich experiences,” says County Library Director Krista Riggs.

First 5’s Villasenor echoes that sentiment: “The more your child sees that you’re involved and that you’re engaged, it just makes that connection stronger to the love of reading and learning.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck and the library was forced to close its doors, staff quickly pivoted to an online version for the program. Backpack kits were distributed to registered participants via contactless curbside service, and workshops were presented online. Going virtual also allowed the program to extend its reach throughout the rural areas of the county, where residents are often faced with the obstacles of transportation and distance.

And at a time when parents and caregivers were confined at home and struggling to keep their children occupied and entertained, the virtual program filled a significant void.

“Through COVID everything closed … so it was really hard to find something for (the children) to do. When this opportunity opened, it was really like a gift to us,” explains parent Masada.

Comments from other parents, whether they and their children enjoyed the program in person or virtually, were equally positive.

“Thank you so much for all you have done for my son and me! Especially during this pandemic. He has excelled greatly,” says Mindy Garcia.

“All lessons were engaging and age appropriate, and I absolutely loved this time working with my daughter,” writes Annalicia Garcia.

“All around this is a wonderful program I would do again and again with my little one,” says parent Crystal Clark.

The kudos go on and on.

Library Director Riggs summarizes the positive impacts the Backpack Literacy Project has had on Madera County residents.

“When a child first enters kindergarten, they already have an expanded vocabulary, they already have that expanded attention span … they already have those motor skills developing. They are ready to learn and engage. They are set up for success,” she says.

The program was so successful in its first year that First 5 Madera County extended funding for year two.

“Children are the heart of the library,” says Riggs with a smile. “We want all children in our community to start school ready to go and ready to learn.”

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