Georgia Shape is excited to feature the first program that targets early childhood education for June’s School of the Month!
Little Cats of Dalton Public Schools is a multigenerational learning program for 3- to 4-year-old children and their parents. Little Cats was developed seven years ago after many students in the Dalton area were not able to enroll in a Pre-K program due to a limited number of slots available. Today, the program serves 50 children for two hours, two days a week for free.
Little Cats is coordinated by “family engagement coordinators” who help families prepare for their child to start kindergarten through organized activities. The classes share simple literacy and craft ideas for home. Most of the families that attend Little Cats are Hispanic, and Spanish is the primary language spoken. The program helps the families in their home language and provides children going into kindergarten with confidence, emphasizing their bilingual and bi-literate strengths.
In January, Little Cats family engagement coordinators participated in an Eat. Move. Talk! training to learn how their principles could be added to classroom activities. Eat. Move. Talk! is a program at the Georgia Department of Public Health that works with early childhood teachers to increase healthy eating, moving and talking with babies and children to support healthy body and brain development, and school readiness.
“The training was wonderful,” said Saira Laruy, a Pre-K family engagement coordinator. “It included hands-on learning materials for implementing healthy eating, moving and talking with our students, and it provided easy ideas to share with our parents.”
Overall, the Eat. Move. Talk! training helped the coordinators better understand and communicate the importance of a healthy lifestyle and how establishing healthy habits can also support language and literacy development with families.
Prior to attending the Eat. Move. Talk! training, the family engagement coordinators had healthy snack activities in the classroom where parents provided the snacks. Now they are able to integrate positive discussions with parents about the quality and healthiness of the snacks provided. They also now display posters about the importance of eating healthy, moving and talking with your child on the Little Cats classroom walls for families to see and talk about.
The Little Cats family engagement coordinators recently used lessons learned from the Eat. Move. Talk! training on Valentine’s Day. A red-themed healthy food activity was organized that included a taste test of red fruits like cherries, strawberries and watermelons. The children were asked to describe the color, texture and taste to support language development and skills.
The family engagement coordinators have also shared resources and ideas from the training with primary and secondary school teachers within Dalton Public Schools. One coordinator shared methods for exercising on a chair with the special education teachers with wheelchair-bound middle school students in order to help the students stay healthy and have fun.
To learn more about Dalton Public Schools visit their website.
To learn more about Eat. Move. Talk!, click here.