Hobe Sound Community Chest uses arts, music and athletics to increase kindergarten readiness

When Scott Berry approached us with his idea to increase the level of learning readiness for a small group of children in Hobe Sound, we saw it as an opportunity to test a hypothesis: Can we use art, music and movement to better prepare children for learning?

Scott thinks that answer is an enthusiastic “Yes!”.

With a grant from the Cornelia T. Bailey Foundation and with the help of Scott Berry and Hobe Sound Community Chest we’re putting over $220,000 into a two-year test project to find our answer.

Founded in 1949, the Chest is the oldest philanthropic organization of its type in our area. The Chest is unique in its singular focus on Hobe Sound; no other philanthropic organization in our area is solely focused on Hobe Sound. Our vision is of a Hobe Sound community where residents have full access to an array of services to meet there physical, psychological, and social needs.

The Chest is also unique in that it is a volunteer driven organization. Currently, there are 37 Directors on the Board. The Directors are the primary force behind fundraising and the vetting of applicant agencies.

The Chest funds programs that touch the entire life-course and all forms of need. Prenatal care, childcare, after-school programs, youth athletic programs and college scholarships are funded. Meals on Wheels, Alzheimer’s care, and hospice care are funded. Programs focusing on feeding the hungry, providing low/no cost medical care, and supporting affordable housing are funded.

The project’s partner organizations are childcare centers. The centers act to provide a safe, caring environment where children are respected as individuals and also learn to function as a group. The centers strive to help each child develop to the fullest of their abilities, providing an environment enriched with planned activities that meet the child’s individual needs, as well as those of the group. These activities help foster social skills, emotional skills, language skills, reading readiness skills, math skills, gross and fine motor skills, art and music appreciation.

The vast majority of the children at the centers go on to kindergarten at Hobe Sound Elementary School.

Each organization currently receives an annual grant from the Chest in excess of $100,000.00. These funds are used for operating expenses and scholarships.

The Problem: In Florida, incoming kindergartners are assessed using the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener (FLKRS). For kindergartners starting in the Fall of 2017, 50% of the children at Hobe Sound Elementary were assessed as “ready to learn”. For the childcare centers, 86% of the children leaving Hobe Sound Early Learning Center were assessed as ready to learn and 42% of those leaving Dunbar were assessed as ready.

Kindergarten readiness, school readiness, 3rd grade reading proficiency, and high school graduation are all related; children with greater readiness for kindergarten are more likely to show greater readiness for school, and children with greater readiness for school are more likely to show higher 3rd grade reading proficiency scores. Third grade reading proficiency is directly related to the probability of graduating high school. With the introduction of FLKRS, many childcare centers have focused their limited resources on elements covered by the screener, to the detriment of other program elements that contribute to the ability to learn. In our conversations with providers the following elements are often mentioned: Arts, Music, Athletics.

The Cornelia T. Bailey Preschool Enhancement Project will bring arts, music, and athletics to the Hobe Sound Child Care Center and the Dunbar Child Care Center. It is hypothesized that these activities will aid in the development of skills that will lead to increased kindergarten readiness.

Art

The arts program will be provided through the Lighthouse ArtCenter in Tequesta Florida. The program will provide a one hour weekly per classroom process-focused art experience for children 2-4 years of age.

Process-focused art is focused on the creative experience and on exploration of techniques, tools, and materials, not on the quality of the end result. With process-focused art, there are no step-by-step instructions or sample for children to follow. Children are taught there is no right or wrong way to explore and create. The result is an art experience is a child’s choice and entirely their own and art that is unique and original.

Examples of Process-focused art activities include:

• Watercolor painting
• Exploring and creating with clay
• Finger painting
• Painting with unusual tools like toothbrushes, paint rollers, potato mashers
• Making collages using tissue paper, various sizes of paper, glue, paste, glue sticks, scissors, and recycled materials

Participation in process-focused art activities has been found to be associated with cognitive, social/emotional, and physical development. Children learn to compare, predict, plan, and problem solve. Children relax, focus, feel successful, and can express their feelings. They refine their use of fine motor skills. Each of these elements is crucial to learning.

Ten classrooms of 2 -4 year olds, with an average of 17 children per classroom, will be served. The program will function 50 weeks out of the year.

Music

Quality music education for preschoolers has been found to support cognitive development, particularly in the area of problem-solving, language acquisition, verbal fluency, and physical coordination. Participation in music education has also been found to increase levels of self-esteem and self-confidence. Again, each of these elements is crucial to learning.

The program to be used here is Music Together. Music Together is an evidence-based music education program designed for preschoolers. The program contains songs and rhythmic chants in a wide variety of tonalities, meters, and musical styles. Classes are a flow of playful, developmentally appropriate activities that include singing, movement, fingerplays, and instrumental jams. The service is delivered once per week per classroom in half hour sessions by a trained Music Together Specialist.

Ten classrooms with an average of 17 children per classroom will be served. The program will function 50 weeks out of the year.

Athletics

Structured athletic activities have been found to promote the development of balance, dexterity, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and concentration/focus. An additional benefit is that children who are physically active have a reduced risk of becoming overweight or obese.

First Serve of Palm Beach provides a US Tennis Association-developed program that introduces 3-4 year olds to the sport of tennis. Children learn basic skills in racket/ball coordination under the supervision of a high school-aged youth mentor. The mentoring relationship brings added value to the experience. The mentors are coached, trained and equipped by First Serve staff in the values of mindfulness, selflessness, and compassion. So besides teaching tennis, the mentors also demonstrate and exemplify these values to the children.

A group of 4 children works with each mentor during the hour long, twice weekly program. Eighty 3 and 4 year olds will be served. The program will function 50 weeks out of the year.

Each of the 3 programs will have a weekly presence in the centers. The goal is to have them become a regular part of the curriculum at the center. The Hobe Sound Community Chest will serve as the fiscal/administrative agent for the project since it already has funding relationships with the centers. The three programs will be funded as individual programs through the Chest. A steering committee made up of Chest board members and center staff will provide oversight to the project.

Stay tuned for our 2019 and 2020 report on the outcomes and hopefully the successes.

Hayley Little