Laughter and greetings in English and Spanish fill the church lobby as mothers and children help themselves to fruit and sandwiches. This growing group gathers every Wednesday morning for Learning Together, a bilingual program designed to prepare children 0-5 years old for school and help parents better support their children’s learning. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s early literacy coordinator Barbara Cantisano and educator Erika Templeton mingle, receiving and returning warm hugs from eager toddlers.
Learning Together builds on the success of Get Ready With Words, which emphasized vocabulary-building through literacy, science, music and art activities. With continued support from PNC Foundation, Learning Together expands beyond vocabulary to incorporate the five domains of school readiness defined by North Carolina Foundations for Early Learning: emotional and social development, health and physical development, cognitive development, language development and communication, and approaches to play and learning. The program is offered in outreach sites chosen because of their proximity to children who most need this support.
Each weekly session includes structured activities for caregivers and children together, as well as time apart. While children engage in imaginative play time, caregivers participate in an informal workshop designed to review what their children are learning from the day’s activities, and how to reinforce those lessons throughout the week at home. For example, following activities about sequencing, the caregivers discuss familiar things that have a sequence they can point out at home – bedtime routines, making a sandwich, getting dressed, and much more. Barbara Cantisano explains, “While managing Get Ready With Words for three years, caregivers often asked me for more information about how to extend the activities at home. By integrating an adult workshop, we can help parents see themselves as teachers.”
Parents welcome the support. One mother shared, “I’ve incorporated simple changes at home with my 2 year old daughter, and I see a difference already. I incorporate the days of the week in conversation, and now it’s a habit and she knows what we do on each day. We’ve always read, but now it’s a predictable part of our daily schedule – even if stopping to read makes us late! We both love this program, because it’s really meant for both of us.”
Charlotte Mecklenburg Library has helped families raise readers for generations, and Learning Together is one of many programs that support reading readiness and school success.