Knowing that research states children enter school more likely to succeed academically when caregivers provide them with early learning tools, United Way of Bradley County has created the first of several community learning trails.
The first of these trails is located near the People for Care and Learning playground and new restroom facility on the Cleveland/Bradley Greenway. It consists of a small extension of the Greenway with informational signage designed with specific themes and helpful tips.
“Themes such as ‘Follow your child’s lead’ or ‘Look for shapes in the world around you’ are on each sign, and each are supported by tips on how to put these suggestions into practice with children,” explained Sarah Haratine, AmeriCorps VISTA of the United Way of Bradley County.
The main goal of the signs is to encourage caregiver-child interaction that will, in turn, allow foundational educational principles to be laid.
Haratine said statistics from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development point out that the inability to read, which is often caused by the absence of early learning preparation, is a health problem.
“Because these learning trails will provide and encourage the use of early education and literacy tools, a possible byproduct is that the health of children could improve,” she noted.
Each trail, including the one already established, will feature 10 signs printed with playful, engaging activities based on early learning outcomes. The signs include both caregiver and child components; caregivers learn practical tips to implement with their children, both at the trail and in a variety of other settings, and there are activities for caregivers and children to complete together.
For example, explained Haratine, one sign says “Go on a letter hunt with your child. Point to the letters painted on the sidewalk, and say the sound that each letter makes. Think of words or names that start with A, B, or C. Teach your child rhyming words … I see the sun. What rhymes with sun? Playing with letters and sounds prepares your child for reading, and you can continue to do this when you see signs along the road or in the grocery store.”
Four more learning trails will be implemented in the community, all of them funded through a grant by the Rotary Club of Cleveland.
The grant was presented at the Jan. 21 Rotary Club meeting.
“We appreciate the Rotary Club of Cleveland for their commitment in helping our community through many local initiatives, including this learning trails grant,” Haratine said. “The club’s grant will go toward the cost of these four new learning trails.”
The learning trails are just one of the projects the United Way of Bradley County spearheads to help children get ready for school. In 2005, United Way began partnering with the Imagination Library and since that date, nearly 200,000 free, age-appropriate books have been delivered to children under the age of 5 in the community.
“Children have the potential to enjoy healthier lives due to increased educational preparation, and the community will ultimately aid its own development through taking preventative rather than interventive measures to care for its future citizens,” Haratine said.
To find out more about the learning trails program, or the Imagination Library and other United Way of Bradley programs designed for youth, contact Haratine at the United Way office at 423-479-2020.