Gilbert Mason Head Start celebrates learning during Week of the Young Child
D’IBERVILLE, Miss. -- Students at Gilbert Mason Head Start eagerly anticipated Work Together Wednesday, when the 4- and 5-year-old classmates planted herbs in the school’s raised beds.
“The kids have been looking forward to today,” said Shandra Hurd, assistant director of education at Gilbert Mason Head Start, one of three centers in Harrison County operated through the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “We’re doing a unit on growing right now, so we’ve been talking a lot about growing plants. Today, they get to plant some things, and parents are invited to join them and help.”
Wednesday’s activities were part of the school’s celebration of the Week of the Young Child held nationwide April 1-7. The annual observance is organized by the National Association for the Education of the Young Child. Each day, teachers used themes related to food, music and art to encourage movement and healthy lifestyles for students and parents.
The day was another opportunity to work in the garden the children have helped plant and tend throughout their time at Gilbert Mason. Teachers incorporate the growing theme into all the student’s learning activities.
“We take a holistic approach when we are studying a particular unit theme,” Hurd said. “During dramatic play, they have things they can use to set up a farmers’ market. We may use blocks to build an imaginary flower bed. During story time, we read books about different types of plants. We also talk about fruits and vegetables and why they are good for us.”
Children share their learning experience with their families as well. Parents can volunteer at the school, and children take home materials that encourage continued learning at home.
“During our growing unit, we’ve sent plants home with children, along with a booklet that helps them track the plants’ growth,” said Jamila Taylor, director of Extension’s Head Start program. “The booklet has different activities, including pages to draw different parts of the plant and open-ended questions that families can use for discussions.”
Parent involvement is one of the important pillars of the Head Start program, Taylor said.
“We want our parents and grandparents to be involved in children’s learning. We know parent involvement is an important piece of student success,” she said. “Because of COVID, this is the first full year we’ve been able to have our parents back to volunteer and do activities like this with their children. We’re excited about that.”
Ibukun Madamidola joined her son for the day’s planting activity and said he has enjoyed the unit.
“We’ve done the activities at home. We talk about what plants need to grow: the soil, sun, food and water. He tells me what he’s learned. That tells me it is implanted in him,” Madamidola said.
Extension’s Head Start program is federally funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Head Start. There is a partnership with Gulfport School, which offers blended enrollment at five elementary schools. The program also has a partnership agreement with Biloxi School District for facility usage. One of Extension’s Head Start programs is housed in a Biloxi district building.
Extension’s program serves 82 pre-kindergarten children in the partnership with Gulfport School District. There is also an Early Head Start partnership with Moore Community House, which currently serves 21 infants and toddlers. Early Head Start has 64 total funded slots.
Because of the lingering effects of COVID, Extension’s Head Start program is not up to its funded capacity of 488.
Each site is staffed with a family advocate who works with families of enrolled students to ensure they have access to needed resources, such as housing assistance, employment assistance, medical care and basic needs.
“This is part of our job: making sure we help families by linking them to the resources and services they need,” Taylor said. “We’ve been able to help families get transportation and jobs. What we do helps build a better community. It’s all connected: children, families and community.”
Other learning themes throughout the week included Music Monday, Tasty Tuesday, Artsy Thursday and Family Friday.
The National Association for the Education of the Young Child is a professional organization for early childhood educators.