ESD 112’s 1-2-3 Grow & Learn program, which prepares young learners for kindergarten at no cost to families, hasn’t missed a beat over the past year despite not being able to hold in-person sessions. Team members have redesigned their program and are conducting sessions via Zoom “virtual classrooms” where they read stories, practice numbers and letters, engage with kids, share learning activity tips for parents, and more.

When teaching moved online last spring, the teams began brainstorming creative ways to reach even more families. Prior to the mandated closures, they held 14 in-person sessions per week with an average of 125 children. Now, being virtual, they hold five sessions a week and have an average of 162 children per day. When sessions were held in person, they were only able to serve families at local elementary schools. Now, virtually, they have participants joining from Washington, Oregon, Utah, Montana, Nevada, California and Arizona.

The feedback from the transition has been well received by participating families.

“It’s great to have an online learning option for kids not in K-12,” said one parent. “We like story time, getting craft activity ideas, learning numbers and letters, singing ABCs and other songs. The teachers are very engaging. And, having a guest author visit was fantastic! It’s a great learning pace for kids 1-3 years old.”

The facilitators have enjoyed expanding their program and finding innovative ways to serve families during the pandemic. Some of the other innovative options they’ve offered include:

  • Holding small group sessions in the afternoon, giving families a chance to connect with each other;
  • Providing activity packets and facilitating virtual Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQs) for families that reside within Vancouver Public Schools or the Washougal School District (these two districts are paying for these additional services);
  • Connecting families with $250 gift cards for grocery stores in their areas through a generous donation from Home Grown; and
  • Inviting guest presenters to join – one of which was Barbara McClintock, author of the children’s book, VROOM.

Participants have complimented the facilitators’ ability to work seamlessly together as if they are in the same room.

“When our 1-2-3 Grow and Learn team discovered that they would not be holding in-person sessions, they were concerned about their work and mostly how they would stay connected to families,” explained Michelle Aguilar, Child Care Aware Manager. “This team of innovative thinkers have taken the opportunity to create a virtual world that supports children in our community and beyond. Their success is really due to their creativity and willingness to try new things.

“They are fun, energetic, and passionate about their work,” she added. “It takes a special person to be willing to go on camera in front of hundreds of children and their adults, and sing, dance and act silly. This group of professionals really bring it, five days a week! I am so proud to work with them and celebrate their success.”

1-2-3 Grow & Learn offers virtual early learning playgroups, Monday – Friday at 10 a.m.