Amber Peters was visibly happy watching two dozen extended families on blankets with new books under a shade tree.
The Elgin Partnership for Early Learning’s Learning On the Go – a two-month program designed to provide family engagement and early learning opportunities for children ages 5 and under – is halfway through its summer run. And on Thursday, about 10 new families stopped by Century Oaks Elementary School in Elgin.
“What I love about it is that parents get out there and engage with each other and engage with their kids,” said Peters, chief executive of the Elgin Partnership for Early Learning. “And the teachers are modeling readiness skills that we hope parents will take home and use to reinforce that hour to build a strong foundation for their children.”
The program, now in its sixth year, operates in areas chosen based on community data on families who may not have access to resources such as child care, health care and library.
Between 30 and 50 children visit the seven spots each week — five in Elgin and two in Hanover Park. Hour-long sessions include accompanied reading, some singing and dancing, and then a craft that encourages learning through play.
Each child receives a free lunch provided by Elgin Area School District U-46 and a new book each week, which they can choose from in English or Spanish. On their first visit, they receive a binder with learning supplies that they bring back each week.
“What’s interesting is that we serve more Hispanic families, but give away more English books,” Peters said.
On Thursday, children followed in their own copies as teachers read “We’re in a Book!” in English and Spanish (“!Estamos en un libro!”).
Peters said many new families join each week, but she loves seeing regular visitors.
“We know we have more impact if they come every week,” she said. “And different partners can come in and offer resources and services.”
The YWCA was on hand Thursday to offer child care assistance, either with funding or enrollment in community head start programs. So was the Northern Illinois Food Bank’s mobile pantry, which drew long lines of cars to the school parking lot. Staff members referred families with children to Learning on the Go.
“We work together to nourish bodies and nourish minds at the same time,” Peters said. “They go together.”
For site locations and times, visit elginpartnership.org/learning-go.