It's a Wednesday afternoon at the Carson School in West Price Hill. The room is filled with energy and fun as kids between the ages of three and five years old gather around Sarah Stegman, a University of Cincinnati student majoring in speech pathology. Over the course of the next hour, the kids will learn all about seeds, gardening, and springtime flowers.
After a fun hello song and introductions that include “What’s your favorite color?”, it’s time for a story about planting. “Who can come up and point to the root growing from the seed?” the children are asked. Hands shoot up.
Sarah and her colleague go on to lead the kids in games of Ring Around the Rosie, planting their own bean seeds in egg cartons, and coloring pictures of flower and vegetable gardens.
While the kids just see it as fun, all of these activities are specifically designed to promote language and literacy. While the children plant, color, and play, their parents are off with two other UC speech pathology students learning about kindergarten readiness, behavior, speech, language, and early childhood development.
This is the “Let’s Talk” program, part of the SPARK initiative (Supporting Partnership to Assure Ready Kids). Adopted by Cincinnati from Canton, Ohio, in 2009, SPARK is a collaboration between Santa Maria Community Services, opens a new window, Children’s Home of Cincinnati, opens a new window, Cincinnati Public Schools, opens a new window, the University of Cincinnati, opens a new window, and the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
Every spring for the past decade, SPARK offers “Let’s Talk”—a six-week program for early childhood families in Price Hill, Madisonville, and Norwood communities. Each week, parents and their kids receive free books and materials, along with immersive lessons and play to give kids a head start when they begin school.
“I think this program has been so successful because the children truly love the experience,” says Program Manager Jamie Mutter of Santa Maria Community Services. “For many of the kids, this is their first time being in a school setting. It often leads to parents enrolling their children into preschool. It helps them build an early and positive relationship, not only with their child but also with the other parents and the school. Having that sense of relationship and community with the school early on is so important for kids’ later success in school and in life.”
That’s the whole goal of “Let’s Talk”: getting children comfortable with entering school and connecting their parents with information so they can be their child’s greatest learning advocate.
For more information about the SPARK program, visit SparkOhio.org, opens a new window and check in with Santa Maria Community Services for information about how to get involved in next year’s “Let’s Talk” program.