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Child Care Providers Get Help to Prepare Preschoolers to Learn

Kindergarten was once a realm of play, art, music and naps, but some educators say academics are stressed more these days. And many children aren’t prepared for it.

That’s why an organization based partially in West Lebanon will bring a one-day grant-funded training program, meant to teach early education providers ways to bring foundational literacy skills to preschoolers, to the Upper Valley this week.

Brenda Buzzell, coordinator for The Stern Center for Language and Learning’s “Building Blocks for Literacy” program, will teach the free six-hour program to about 20 child care providers around the area. It focuses on play-based exercises that enrich young children’s language skills.

“It’s not a curriculum,” Buzzell said. “It’s a program that can be used with any curriculum that a provider is already implementing.”

The Stern Center received a grant of more than $8,000 from the Mascoma Savings Bank Foundation, Hypertherm’s HOPE Foundation and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Buzzell said.

Stern Center President Blanche Podhajski said that half of children under age 5 enter kindergarten not ready to read.

“There’s a huge opportunity gap there,” she said. “It’s really a wonderful investment in our youngest learners.”

The games and teaching methods the program imparts to preschool teachers are foundational tools, Podhajski said, not meant as a way to teach reading but to teach a greater understanding of how the English language operates.

Earlier literacy education matters because, over time, educational standards have changed, Buzzell said. The information she taught first-graders 10 years ago, she said, is now taught to kindergartners in order to conform to the expectations of the new Common Core state standards.

Seats for the program are already full, Buzzell said, and there’s a waiting list. All of the attending child care centers are local, and many of the children who will eventually benefit will end up at Hanover Street School or Mount Lebanon School in Lebanon and West Lebanon, respectively.

Beyond the Saturday session, two providers will receive so-called “mentorships,” in which a Building Blocks for Literacy instructor will go to child care centers to model the program’s tenets with children.

Green Mountain Child Care, which has sites in Hartford, Claremont and Lebanon, is one of the recipients of the mentorship. Amanda McHugh, the site director for Lebanon, said the training the Stern Center offers is instrumental for preparing children.

“I think it’s essential,” McHugh said. “I think when they get to kindergarten it’s a lot more academic than it used to be, so they need a good foundation.”

The Lebanon focus of the Building Blocks for Literacy program aligns with the Stern Center’s move into its West Lebanon offices. That happened in mid-2012, after the organization spent about 15 years in White River Junction.

The Stern Center has operated out of its Williston, Vt., office for three decades in total, and is in the process of celebrating 30 years of operation.

Podhajski founded the center, and at that point had 15 years of experience in learning disabilities under her belt. She had dealt with many children who were struggling to master printed English, but who she knew were not dyslexic.

“We had good clinical instincts,” she said. “We still knew that there were may too many youngsters who were not learning.”

The past three decades have seen what Podhajski called a “real research revolution,” in which teaching strategies have been refined, technology has advanced and the Stern Center has adapted.

“We’ve seen the changes in the kinds of services we’re being asked to offer,” Podhajski said, citing, for example, the increased need for social learning among children.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.