Free program helps to close early childhood offerings gap

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Theresa McFarlane, a Cranston mother of 2-year-old twins, saw a problem and has taken steps to help solve it.

“As a mom of twins, I saw a gap of affordable activities for socialization and education for the 0-5 age group,” she said.

As a participant in the 20-week Parent Leadership Training Institute, or PLTI, with OneCranston – an initiative of CCAP – McFarlane began to research census data for Cranston and determined that 5 percent of the city’s population is 5 years old or younger. She began to create her capstone project for PLTI – for which she would receive credit from Roger Williams University – to address the needs she saw.

“With help from CCAP Parents as Teachers, and as a pilot [program] under CCAP, we partnered with the Cranston YMCA, which had some available space for us, in order to provide a free, integrated parent/child community playgroup that fosters early childhood development through social, emotional, educational, sensory and STEM/STEAM activities for ages 0-5,” she said.

The program is called Little Learners Playgroup and it recently met for the second time, just ahead of Memorial Day weekend. The focus of the day was on wind, Memorial Day and parades.

“We will have some time to get acclimated, do some introductions and sing some educational songs,” McFarlane said ahead of the event. “Cherie Cruz is here from Parents as Teachers and she will work with the group and do some songs in the beginning.”

In addition to the songs and introductions, the group learned a new American Sign Language word of the day – the sign for wind.

“After the whole group time, the kids will have time to go to the sensory stations,” McFarlane said. “Today we have kinetic sand and we have an art table set up. The two books at storytime relate to our subject matter today, and we also have a take-home project which is pinwheels to go along with our wind theme.”

The 90-minute program concluded with an allergy-friendly snack and a clean-up song before the parents and children went on their way.

“The program is limited to 25 slots and you don’t need a YMCA membership to attend,” McFarlane said. “We will be piloting this for six months for proof of concept, and this is our second session. We have also heard from the Cranston Public Library that they would like to host some sessions also. We are hoping to offer sessions once a week.”

For more information about the Little Learners Playgroup, visit littlelearnersplaygroup.weebly.com.

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