Jordan Park filled with nearly 100 children Tuesday afternoon, and they all combed through the canopy-covered pavilion area searching for prized-filled plastic eggs.
Little did they realize the true prizes came in the form of connectivity.
United Way Suncoast partnered with the St. Petersburg Housing Authority and the St. Petersburg Police Department to stage the Easter Egg celebration. Ulas Butler, United Way senior education manager led children 6 and under in the search for goodies. Officer Dianeka Jones gathered students above 6 for their prize scramble. The students, many sporting animated designs on their faces thanks to a face painter, cheered with glee as they came away with delightful bags full of prizes. They also cheered for the slices of pizza donated by Domino’s.
After gathering eggs, the children engaged in a number of activities. They played with kinetic sand to coloring to hopscotch and cornhole.
Party with a purpose
However, the gathering came with an added purpose for United Way Suncoast. The organization stages a monthly pop-up play group at Jordan Park as part of its broader Campbell Park Network for Early Learning initiative. The idea is to entice children and their parents to one of the weekly Learn and Play sessions at United Way Suncoast’s Campbell Park Resource Center, located in the back of John Hopkins Middle School off of Queen Street just north of 9th Ave. S.
At the learn and play session, the parents are as active as students, often learning how to engage in meaningful learning through play opportunities. It’s child’s play, but with 80-90 percent of brain development occurring from 0-5, these activities make a difference. It helps build kindergarten readiness and put students on a path for future success.
The effort also concentrates on boosting area childcare centers and providing professional development for early learning educators.
Meeting moms and dads
Butler reflected the connections created by the initiative. He read to students and led them through various activities. But he also took time to engage parents, and he knew many by name. Parents are their children’s first teachers, and it’s critical that they understand that children learn through play. By engaging with their little ones, they help grow the students’ language and literacy skills.
The parents see Butler as a trusted family advocate. He offers supports, explains and connects families to resources that not only benefit their children but the whole family. They also learn a few tips. As the event wrapped up, Butler played Clean Up, and the kids followed the lyrics and helped pick up the toys. It’s a song every parent wants to play at home.
The Campbell Park Network for Early Learning is just part of United Way Suncoast’s broader Quality Childcare Initiative. The organization’s work spans five counties and amplifies the good work of early learning educators.