July 7, 2012 3:16:20 PM
Jan Swoope - firstname.lastname@example.org
BY JAN SWOOPE
I got it!" beamed Delaney Shedd, touching small fingers to the screen of an Early Literacy Station to make an image of a flower, a train or an animal appear. At just 22 months old, her consonants may not be quite crisp, but her understanding that she was making things happen definitely computed.
The toddler and her 3 1/2-year-old brother, David, were each at an ELS screen Tuesday at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library, at two of four stations donated by Junior Auxiliary of Columbus. Delaney and David are among the parade of children who visit these stimulating units loaded with more than 55 educational, interactive software activities geared toward ages 2-10.
With such entertaining friends as Dora the Explorer, Thomas the Train or Berenstein Bears, youngsters may not even realize they're learning colors, shapes, numbers, letters, concepts. Through programs like My Amazing Human Body, Space and the Universe, Reader Rabbit or Math Blaster, they discover learning can be a joy.
The JA chapter's donation of AWE Early Literacy Stations began with two units, complete with desks and chairs, in 2000. In 2011, then-library staff member Pam Rhea contacted Marian Montgomery of JA to request help in adding updated units. The result, Montgomery said, was a "no brainer."
"I went up to the library to see the stations JA had given years before and saw how much fun the children were having with interactive learning," stated Montgomery, who took photos she later shared with JA board members when the library's request was officially presented.
"After they saw the pictures, there was no need to convince them; the conversation immediately turned to whether or not we had the funds to do it," she said.
The investment for two new literacy stations was near $7,000. But since JA's year-round service focus is children, partnering with the library to encourage early literacy skills was a natural fit.
"We considered it a great investment in our community's children," stressed Montgomery.
Fun with learning
Each donated ELS is bilingual (English and Spanish) and comes preloaded with top-rated software programs spanning seven curricular areas. Kids are instantly engaged.
"You just take the computers out of the box and plug them in and you're good to go," said Erin Stringer, deputy director of the Columbus-Lowndes Library System. "The response has been really positive."
Andree Shedd, Delaney and David's mom, said David is in the early stage of learning letters and numbers. She feels the literacy stations will help, especially if Thomas the Train is involved.
"With David, anything to do with Thomas is a huge hit," smiled his mother. "Delaney is purely Mickey Mouse."
For 4-year-old Faith Yeates at a neighboring station, it's all about Dora the Explorer.
Her mother, Barbara Yeates, said, "The first thing she asked when we got here was, 'Mom, can I go play on the computer first?'"
At the station, Faith laughed from time to time as Dora issued instructions and Faith interacted by touching the screen.
"(The stations) have good stories and the children are learning at the same time; it's very beneficial," commented her mother.
Those skills will be needed sooner than some parents may think. Children will increasingly be expected to be computer conversant at earlier ages.
"It's unreal what they come in knowing now compared to when I started teaching," said educator Dixie Belue. After teaching kindergarten in the Columbus Municipal School District for 23 years, Belue retired in May, from Joe Cook Elementary Fine Arts Magnet School.
Even pre-K children are exposed to learning "games" on computers in class, she said. Kindergartners regularly take assessments on computers.
Library Youth Services Director Lindsey Miller sees the benefits of the Early Literacy Stations every day. They provide children with enrichment and learning activities in every subject during summer and, during the academic year, after school.
Miller also sees them as a wonderful way for parents and children to share the learning experience.
"You are your child's first and most important teacher," she emphasized. "The stations give parents the opportunity to sit together at the computer and bond in an educational setting, with tools they wouldn't typically have access to at home."
In offering youngsters resources they need to be successful, the library does a great service for the community, said JA member Melissa Buxton. She was vice president of the chapter when the two most recent literacy stations were donated.
"In providing all they do, the library does a great service for the whole community and beyond. Their efforts echo our own in reaching out to the children of Lowndes County," said Buxton. "Through this and our other service projects we get to impact the lives of children, showing them that learning can be fun and can lead to successful futures."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.