How we’re partnering ‘to develop young minds’ during COVID-19

Early Childhood Community Engagement Specialists Jenny Jackson (pictured) and Nora Sanchez led weekly live virtual storytimes with incoming kindergartners in the Ready, Set, Kindergarten! program this summer.

While so much has changed this year, our priority to support early childhood learning remains strong.

“We work with educators, children, and caregivers to develop young minds,” says Early Childhood Community Engagement Specialist Jenny Jackson. “We set a foundation in social and emotional learning, and through that foundation we focus on literacy and connectedness.”

Connectedness is especially important during this time of physical distancing. Since March, we’ve continued to support our early childhood partners in their work with families and young children, including providing curated library resources and live storytimes.

“Relationships that already felt strong seem to have a new level of care to them,” Jackson says. “The smiles everyone is sharing are so necessary and healing—for everyone. This level of connecting is really meaningful and so important right now.”

Connecting new kindergartners in remote learning

Ready, Set, Kindergarten! provided free online classes and support for incoming kindergartners in Oak Park and River Forest, including one-on-one instruction with a certified teacher over Zoom.

“Starting elementary school is going to look so different for incoming kindergartners,” Jackson said, back in August. “Not only are they transitioning into a new class structure, they are conducting everything virtually.”

For four weeks this summer, we partnered with the Equity Team of Oak Park (E-Team) and the Collaboration for Early Childhood on Ready, Set, Kindergarten!

This formerly in-person program was revamped to provide free online classes and support for Oak Park and River Forest families with incoming kindergartners who would benefit from additional instruction time on preschool concepts and experience with remote learning to prepare for the fall.

E-Team logo

“We have heard from families about the anxiety they are feeling as their children prepare for remote learning in the fall,” said the E-Team’s Frances Kraft. “That anxiety is amplified when it’s a child beginning kindergarten, especially for families going through this transition for the first time.”

Ready, Set, Kindergarten! included one-on-one instruction with a certified teacher over Zoom, plus a weekly virtual support circle hosted by the E-Team, where families could share experiences and get tips from teachers and other families.

Weekly activity boxes included learning materials, manipulatives, and books that library staff selected for each child based on their interest.
Learning materials were delivered to families’ homes every week.

Teachers assigned skill-building exercises using a website accessed on library-loaned iPad minis. And library staff provided a weekly live, virtual storytime, providing a space for children to connect and prepare for the school year. In addition, DuShaun Branch from Sage Gawd Collective provided yoga and mindfulness video and live sessions for students and families. 

DuShaun Branch from Sage Gawd Collective provided yoga and mindfulness video and live sessions for students and families.

“During our time with Ready, Set, Kindergarten! it was of utmost importance to us that the children feel seen and heard across the virtual platform,” said the library’s Early Childhood Community Engagement Specialist Nora Sanchez. “An authentic connection in this fashion makes it possible for social emotional learning to take place as they sharpen literacy skills.”

Families also received weekly activity box deliveries, including learning materials, manipulatives, and library books personally selected for every child. “Every family was interviewed and asked to tell us unique things about their child,” Kraft said. “From this information, the library was able to gather books based on each child’s interest.” 

“Partnering with the library and the Collaboration is an innovative way to help support students, connect families, and build excitement for the school year during this difficult time,” Kraft added. “A community partnership approach brings the best of what each partner does to create a new approach that has the potential to change the way systems currently work.”

Delivering resources to early childhood educators

Educator Resource Kits, assembled by the Collaboration for Early Childhood, will be delivered to preschools and daycares starting this fall.

Our staff are experts at curating library resources to support teachers, families, and caregivers. While regular resource delivery to preschools and daycares has been suspended since March, our Community Engagement team is working to resume deliveries later this fall.

Resources for early childhood educators and childcare providers include our Social-Emotional Learning Kits, which contain books, open-ended questions, and materials designed to empower children to share their ideas and feelings with grown-ups and peers.

We also share Educator Resource Kits, with items designed to engage and empower children with a love for learning, generously provided by the Collaboration for Early Childhood.

“The Collaboration for Early Childhood recognized a need in the community for additional educational resources that support a child’s development in the years before kindergarten,” Jackson says.

Heather Duncan, Director of Early Learning for the Collaboration for Early Childhood, says her organization was looking for meaningful ways to partner with the library, and also considering how to navigate distribution for a lending library catering to local early childhood educators.

“The librarians are so amazing, that it only took one meeting for the spark of this idea to become a flame!” Duncan says. “The Collaboration is so excited to match our area of expertise with theirs, and beyond grateful to them for doing the heavy lifting that allows programs to access these materials.”

Spreading our love of learning: Live storytimes & more

Child watches storytime on screen

Since March, our Early Childhood Community Engagement Specialists have been doing interactive, virtual storytimes for preschools and daycare centers they’d normally be visiting in person. Over Zoom, they’ve continued to provide opportunities for early literacy, social and emotional growth, and connection.

And now everyone can join in for public storytimes, starting September 16!

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