I have early memories of a bookmobile visiting my hometown neighborhood in Western Massachusetts. I remember taking a giant step up to climb aboard that magical truck with walls filled with books. It felt like the world outside disappeared as I searched for books to read. I’m grateful for these early memories and thankful that children in our community also have these experiences.
Windham County’s bookmobile came under the umbrella of Windham Child Care Association (WCCA) back in 2012, after 13 years of administration by Windham County Reads. Taking on the program was a natural fit for WCCA. With our focus on improving the quality of child care programs, this was yet another avenue for us to reach children and child care providers directly, particularly those in the more rural corners of the county.
A new chapter in the bookmobile’s story called for a new look. We worked with New Ground (formerly Woodward Design) to create a new design which includes self-portraits by children at Timson Hill Preschool in Williamsville. Along with a new look came a new name for the program: the Early Learning Express.
In its first year as the Early Learning Express, the bookmobile visited 30 child care programs throughout the county. Each week, Early Childhood Outreach Specialist Emily Walsh brought stories, literacy activities and books to borrow to child care programs big and small.
Along with continuing to provide positive literacy experiences for young children, WCCA added a new element of bringing education and support to the local child care provider community. We loaded our Resource Library onto the vehicle which means providers have educational books and materials at their fingertips without having to travel to our office. In addition to these resources, we provide information about state and local child care policy issues, professional development and networking opportunities, STARs information, and career ladder and college information.
With each year, the program has grown. In 2013, we expanded from four to five days a week. Last summer, we added two community neighborhoods to the route: Ledgewood Heights and Moore Court. One of the original goals of Windham County Reads was to help bridge the gap between school years by bringing books to the homes of children during the summer months. We have been proud to continue the success of that important service.
Last year we also partnered with the New England Youth Theater for weekly visits to their Brave Young Vaudevilles summer camp program. Once a week, children listened to a story and chose books to enjoy throughout their time at the camp. Counselors often borrowed chapter books to read during their scheduled down-times in their busy days.
At WCCA, we love to share this awesome resource with the community. The Early Learning Express participates at the River Valley Kids Fair, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital’s Touch a Truck fundraiser, the Strolling of the Heifer’s Slow Living Summit and the Month of the Young Child’s Early Childhood Fair. During these exciting community events, young children and their caregivers find reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the crowd, quietly enjoying a story together. Children who are familiar with the bookmobile are proud to show it off to their parents, while parents appreciate learning more about this exciting part of their children’s days. To encourage these experiences at home, we offer free books to visiting families -- another joy for children to experience and remember.
During this April’s Month of the Young Child festivities, WCCA will be holding a special event on Thursday, April 17, at Ledgewood Heights in Brattleboro. Thanks to a grant from the Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF), performer, author, educator and Children’s Voices Theatre co-founder Marv Klassen-Landis will present an interactive storytelling presentation to visiting families. The community is invited to stop by at noon to enjoy the presentation, check out the bookmobile and pick out a few new books to take home.
Along with CliF, major supporters that keep the bookmobile on the road include the United Way of Windham County, People’s United Community Foundation, The Thomas Thompson Trust, The Turrell Fund, The O.P. & W.E. Edwards Foundation, as well as individual donors in our region.
Recently, Brattleboro Subaru supported the program by generously affording us a vehicle which has allowed the program to continue through the winter months. Emily now has four wheel drive to better handle the winter weather and mud season. During these visits, Emily has the opportunity to engage with the children in their own space. She brings books to borrow, reads stories to the children and takes advantage of the larger spaces by leading movement activities.
We’re excited to get the Early Learning Express back on the road this spring. If you see it parked at any of the community evens throughout the year, come on by! Young children and grown-ups alike appreciate the uniqueness of this special community resource.
Sarah DiNicola is the Communications & Events Coordinator at Windham Child Care Association and mom to Sylvia, age 4 and Nina, age 6. She welcomes comments, questions and feedback at email@example.com or 802-254-5332 ext. 310.