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Maureen McMullen, Published January 12 2014

School readiness program focuses on parents

FARGO – While most preschools focus on preparing children for kindergarten, a new school readiness program through the YMCA Fargo offers children and their parents a new way to get ready for school.

Like most preschools, YMCA’s Come With Me program helps children develop the skills they need for kindergarten, such as counting, learning the alphabet and sitting in a group.

What sets Come With Me apart from traditional preschools is its primary focus on guiding parents instead of just the children.

“The caregivers come in and instead of directing the program towards the children, we direct the program towards the caregivers,” said Cherida Even, program facilitator for Come with Me. “My job is to help the caregivers learn to take preschool into their homes.”

Each month, the group focuses on a different theme, such as “All About Me” or “Community,” as well as on YMCA’s core values that include caring, respect, responsibility, honesty and health.

Even, who designs activities to reflect each month’s value and theme, said she wants the activities to involve minimal materials and be simple for parents to re-create at home.

“If you’re standing in the kitchen and you’re counting how many dinner plates there are, and then you ask how many spoons you’ll need, then you’ll have the child go put them out,” Even said. “Education is ongoing, and you can do it any time.”

Many of the program’s participants are new Americans, such as Pavitra Parshai, who moved here from Nepal three years ago, and her daughter, Prianshi, 2.

“When I kept Prianshi home, she did not know how to read and write,” Parshai said. “Now, she knows how to spell her name, Sunday-Monday (days of the week), ABCs, how to count up to 100.”

Not only did Prianshi learn numbers and the alphabet, both of which she gleefully fires off at a rapid pace, she also honed her social skills with teachers and other children.

“My daughter is alone at home; I don’t have any other kids,” Parshai said. “When I bring her here, she is now seeing how to play with other kids.”

The YMCA USA awarded the Fargo branch enough seed money to cover the program’s first two years. Even said they hope to add to their list of sponsors, which includes United Way and the Fargo Park District.

The program welcomes any children from birth to age 5. It is based out of the Jefferson Neighborhood in south Fargo and is looking to expand.

“If we want to open another center in another community in Fargo, we’re going to need help,” Even said. “If everyone who sees value in this program puts in a small contribution like donated books, that just brings us closer to getting our program out there more.”

Come With Me will sponsor an open house event from 9 to 11 .m. on Jan. 21 and 22 at the Robert D. Johnson building, 1104 2nd Ave. S., Classroom E.

For more information, contact Even at (701) 281-0126.