The Library’s Pop-Up Preschool brings new early childhood education options to Deer Park

There is a lot of emphasis put on kindergarten readiness and for good reason. Teaching all the cognitive and behavioral skills that kids require to succeed in this new educational setting is a big job—so big, that only about 40 percent of kids in Hamilton County have all of those skills when they enter kindergarten.

One thing that can really move the bar for a child is a high-quality preschool experience. Research tells us that kids who are exposed to a structured opportunity to play with language, math, and their peers are more likely to thrive in a kindergarten setting. However, families face numerous barriers to accessing high-quality preschool for their children. To address this, the City of Cincinnati created the Preschool Promise program that includes funding for free, high-quality preschool for all Cincinnati families. In areas outside the city, no public funding exists to support preschool for every child and parents may have their own reasons for needing an alternative option. That’s where the Library’s Pop-Up Preschool comes in. 

The Library and YMCA of Greater Cincinnati first teamed up to offer Pop-Up Preschool in the spring of 2018. Fall of 2019 marked our fourth session held at the Deer Park Branch Library. Each session ranges from six to eight weeks and takes place for two hours a day twice per week.

The Pop-Up Preschool pilot program was funded by a $50,000 grant from the Jacob G. Schmidlapp Trusts, Fifth Third Bank, Trustee, through The Library Foundation. This funding allows the Library to expand the program in 2020. It also allows the Library to retain a part-time professional to create and evaluate a curriculum that focuses on the formal and informal skills the program teaches to enrolled children, as well as how to better engage parents/caregivers to extend those kindergarten readiness skills outside of the program.  

There are many paths to kindergarten readiness, and Pop-Up Preschool builds on the foundation families have laid at home, adding socialization with other children and expanding each child’s learning and curiosity. Students practice letter and number recognition, writing the letters in their name, interacting in a group, taking turns, raising their hand, and following directions. They enjoy activities like circle time, read alouds, and STEM activities like making reindeer toothpaste, opens a new window. They learn to sing songs to help with transitions like clean-up and quiet time. 

Pop-Up Preschool is great for kids who might not be ready for full-day daycare or preschool, parents who homeschool but want to supplement their child’s interactions with peers, or parents who want their child to be exposed to smaller class sizes. 

“Our goal for the future is to connect parents to community and school resources that will help support a family’s journey to kindergarten and beyond,” said Deer Park Branch Manager Natalie Fields. “This fall we brought in guest speakers from Deer Park Community City Schools and the Hamilton County Educational Service Center. Parents heard about the services available via the school district, developmental milestones, where to get extra support when it’s needed, and did early learning activities that can be replicated with materials they already have at home. They also shared their own challenges and successes, building a community of supportive neighbors and friends.” 

Parents love that their children have to opportunity to learn and socialize with other kids their age. It can be tough finding affordable opportunities for young children to play and learn in a structured way. And of course, the kids love learning and creating with new friends. “They especially love the books,” said Fields. “One of our first Pop-Up Preschoolers who also attended a traditional preschool dubbed our program ‘The Book Preschool’.” 

The results by the end of each session are noticeable to both Library staff and parents. A child who wouldn’t make eye contact with teachers on the first day ended her final day of class smiling and giving her teacher a high five. Another child who preferred not to play with other kids learned to feel safe jumping right in with their peers each day. Kids apply what they’re learning in other situations outside of class like singing “The Cleanup Song” and picking up toys at home when asked. 

“A Pop-Up Preschool grandparent noted that while her granddaughter is doing great, the parent resources and the discussions with teachers and parents helped her understand where she could make adjustments as she practices skills with her granddaughter at home,” noted Fields. 

Using Pop-Up Preschool as support and a resource for the wonderful work parents and caregivers are already doing at home and giving that extra bit of help and connection is what the Library does best. With 2019’s Pop-Up Preschool experience at a close, the Library is looking forward to educational resources we’ll bring to communities across Hamilton County in 2020. Stay tuned!