By Rebecca Honig, director of content
One of the things I’ve always loved about writing tips and activities for Ready4K is that I get to hang out with kids while I do it. Not in person, of course, but in my imagination. That’s because as I write, I’m often picturing all the kids I taught over all my years in education, as well as the kids we hear about when we survey thousands of parents and caregivers across the country. family workshops
These specific and unique kids circle in my head. I hold them up, one by one, against each activity we suggest. “Hummm… would Niko be into this?” Niko from my first year of teaching on the Lower East Side. Niko who loved tigers and answered every question in “tiger talk” for the first half of the year. How about Cedric? Cedric from the afterschool program in Malden. Cedric preferred to sit under his desk and draw detailed illustrations of everything that was happening around him. How about Mila? Mila from New Mexico where I spent the summer working in a literacy program. Mila who ran everywhere, as if bursting into each new experience.
These kids (and there are hundreds more of them) are always with me.
Live Workshops Change it All
When we launched Ready4K LIVE Virtual Family Workshops, however, I no longer had to conjure kids in my imagination. That’s because they were right there in person. Right on Zoom, like in this feelings song video.
They were participating in real time. And though their cameras were off, they were interacting through the chat box. Their grownups were giving us real time updates with every new activity. They were telling us what their kids liked, what they wanted to see more of, what really got them moving and participating.
And what we learned, within those first few workshops is that families liked CHARACTERS. They liked when the learning happened not just through one host, but LOTS of different and unique characters. Characters who brought the learning to life in all different ways—through games, songs, stories, inventions, art…
They LOVED characters who made them laugh and characters who encouraged them to join in.
And so we began the exciting work of mapping our learning goals not only onto activities and experiences but also CHARACTERS (humans and sock puppets, too).
Now when you join a Ready4K Live Virtual Family Workshop, hosted once per month, you are greeted by an amazing and diverse cast. Each character with a role to play in bringing the learning to life in a unique, fun, memorable way.
The Big Fancy Word Lady
The Big Fancy Word Lady. She’s a great lover of language. And more specifically, WORDS. In each family workshop she introduces us to three new BIG FANCY words through hands-on experiences.
She models ways to build vocabulary through concrete explorations. She offers strategies for making words memorable. Kids join her in feeling each word, in demonstrating it, in speaking it aloud with meaning. She shares poems and rhymes, asks open ended questions, and most importantly, demonstrates the POWER of words and self-expression.
She echoes the focus on language and communication present in all of our Ready4K text messages.
Señorita Luna makes learning physical. And she does it in both English and Spanish. If our workshop is focused on math she dances out patterns or leads us in building number sense with a hop and a step. If our workshop is focused on social and emotional skills she helps us explore what emotions can look like. How they can feel in our bodies.
Kids and their grownups join her in practicing calm down strategies, like belly breathing and soothing stretches. In learning these strategies together, the whole family can apply them during their daily routines.
These same family workshop strategies are texted to families through the Ready4K curriculum, and multisensory learning is a key ingredient in all our content. As is cultural and linguistic awareness, which Señorita Luna celebrates with bilingualism. Furthering this, all workshops are captioned with an interpreter at every workshop to translate each game, interaction, song and story into Spanish. Just like our Ready4K text messages, which are available in English, Spanish, Arabic, Vietnamese, Chinese and Russian, our workshops are ever-evolving to bring content to families in their home language.
Mr. Busy Pants
Mr. Busy Pants is always on the go, often running off to help a friend—like his best buddy Zucchini Bob or his chicken Philomena. He’s the embodiment of a very busy caregiver and shows ways that learning can happen during our most hectic days.
That’s because he’s always on the lookout for learning opportunities. He notices letters on labels as he runs around the store. Sight words on signs. Opportunities to add with addresses as he dashes here and there. And he calls us on his banana phone during family workshops to report these discoveries to families.
This very strategy of layering learning onto families’ preexisting moments and daily routines is core to Ready4K’s evidence-based approach. It’s essential to ensuring that the activities we suggest are doable and strength-based. Everything we recommend has to work within families’ busy lives.
Professor Eureka is an expert at transforming everyday objects into learning tools. Throughout each family workshop, we visit her lab to discover her latest invention—like a book box for collecting stories, a calming corner for when she’s having hard emotions, and a math game called Sockskit ball. What do you need to make this game at home? A sock and a bowl! Together families try out her games and discover that learning does not take extra tools or supplies.
Just like the Ready4K’s strength-based activities, her inventions always highlight that amazing learning can happen with the people, place, and things around you.
There’s also Popcorn. He’s our family workshop executive of excitement. He uses silly questions and games, kazoo ditties and dance moves to inspire participation. He brings wonder and curiosity to everything we do.
And that’s not all on the sock puppet front!
Math Workshops feature The Teenies who show us ways our hands and fingers make fabulous tools for figuring things out.
Literacy Workshops spotlight DJ Sound, who loves all things related to phonemic awareness.
And we’ve got Huffywumpus to help us explore BIG feelings!
Rebecca and My Banjo
And then there’s me, Ms. Rebecca. Ready with my banjo to lead interactive songs and stories where kids contribute ideas into the chat box. Throughout each workshop I also let grownups know WHAT skill each activity and game is building, and WHY that skill is important to a child’s growth and development. This is something we also do in each Ready4K text message.
And all of our characters- human or sock, embody play, curiosity, child led learning and hands on discovery! All tent poles of the Ready4K approach.
At the end of each Ready4K Virtual Family Workshop we conduct real time surveys and lead a Q&A session where we answer families’ most pressing questions.
During this Q&A we also gain critical insights into the lives of the families we serve. They share about their children’s development and interests, their challenging moments, their favorite things. And in doing so, all these children join the community of kids that we hold in our minds and hearts as we create new virtual family workshops, new programs and new Ready4K messages.
Want to learn more about creating a virtual family workshop kids and grownups will love? Check out our recent blog: That Friday Feeling. And stay tuned for more insights on how to build great workshops coming later this summer!