PITTSFIELD -- The school year may be coming to an end, but for early childhood educators and advocates, it's never too early to start preparing children for kindergarten.
The Berkshire Museum, through its WeeMuse program and its partnership with a local early childhood advisory group, recently published an activity book titled, "In Kindergarten," created to help families talk about and prepare kids for their transition into kindergarten.
The book includes stickers, activity pages, writing activities and more, designed by the team of Amanda Bettis, Kimberly Donoughe and Deirdre Tenero of Studio Two in Lenox.
The initiative, funded in part by Berkshire Bank, published 1,500 copies of the book to be distributed for free to every child who is registered to enter kindergarten in Berkshire County, starting this year.
Berkshire Museum's Education and Public Program Manager Craig Langlois said that publishing the book has been a "grounding stake" of the WeeMuse program and its efforts to support early childhood initiatives.
The federal "Goals 2000: Educate America Act" stated that by the year 2000, "All children in America will start school ready to learn," but a number of studies and statistics indicates that the nation still struggles with this goal.
Two years ago, the museum began working with the Pittsfield Transition Team and developed WeeMuse to better help families and schools in the Berk-
shires tackle early childhood challenges.
"A lot of things that are in the book are identified by local kindergarten teachers as things people need assistance with," said Langlois. "A lot of kids have never been in a formal education setting before attending kindergarten and don't know what the roles are in a school."
For example, the book details the processes of riding the school buses, preparing for lunch and introduces them to the roles of teachers, the principal, the school nurse, lunch workers and custodians.
"I think it's going to prepare families to understand what kindergarten is and what the child is responsible for and what parents need to be responsible for knowing," said Melissa Zepka of "In Kindergarten." She is the literacy specialist for Northern Berkshire's Family Resource Center of Child Care of the Berkshires Inc., who helped develop the book's content along with Sue Doucette, early childhood coordinator for Pittsfield Public Schools.
Zepka said that instead of sending their kids to preschool, some families in her service area opt to keep their children at home, where they are looked after by grandparents, parents or other caregivers, either for preference, convenience or cost issues. Because of this, young children may not develop the same sense of routine, socialization and knowledge of classroom structure that formal preschool settings tend to offer.
Both Zepka and Langlois said that book is a helpful new resource to add to the early childhood and kindergarten readiness repertoire of Berkshire County.
Zepka said that "In Kindergarten" will be distributed in a "Kick-off to Kindergarten" packet the Family Resource Center puts together. It's packed with tips, reference materials like websites and phone numbers, and local parenting and playgroup information.
At the Berkshire Museum, Langlois said he is working with his colleagues to plan special events and weekly programs geared toward families with children of kindergarten age and younger. There are things like WeeMuse Adven-
tures for children ages 2 to 4, which include activities like story time, museum exhibit explorations and play time.
The museum hired a new early childhood education specialist, Jesseca Williamson, who has been working with the Jenn Faulconer, a state Coordinator for Family and Community Engagement associate for Berkshire County. Together they are developing early childhood museum and community programs focused in the so-called STEAM content areas of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.
"Knowing the need to prepare children for success before they reach school, we have made early childhood educational programming a core institutional value," said Berkshire Museum's executive director, Van Shields. "It is especially rewarding to work with community partners to address this need because, when it comes to education, we are all in this together and can't move fast enough."
Upcoming events ...
Free WeeMuse events at the Berkshire Museum:
June 28: “In Kindergarten,” a celebration of readiness
July 11: Science Night
Nov. 7: Pajama Night
February 2015: “10 Days of Play”
Information: (413) 443-7171 or berkshiremuseum.org
To reach Jenn Smith:
or (413) 496-6239.
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink