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Region Stories

These stories illustrate how early childhood programs and services funded by First Things First make a difference for young children and families in communities across Arizona.

Parker library provides early literacy support during COVID-19 to young boy online and at home

Every week, Martha Alvarado would care for her grandson, Eli, and her other three grandchildren when her daughter went to work. 

One of her favorite activities to do was take Eli, age 5, to the Colorado River Indian Tribes Library in Parker for storytime to help him develop language and social skills.

“When I first took him, he would fight with the other kids and have problems sitting and paying attention,” said Alvarado. “Eventually he learned to socialize, sit and listen.”

Eli also learned to share with other children and follow directions by doing art projects after storytime. When it was time to go home, he got to check-out a book. 

Alvarado knew Eli needed help with his language skills. 

“I would use the books to teach him to express himself,” she said. “The books they give out are colorful and capture his attention. He’s learned new words.” 

The library’s Early Literacy Coordinator Laura Puentes-Lopez created these weekly events to support local families with young children. The First Things First Colorado River Indian Tribes Regional Partnership Council funds her position to help increase early literacy in the area and prepare children for kindergarten. 

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When the library closed for the COVID-19 pandemic, Puentes-Lopez continued to find ways to engage families. She moved storytimes online to Zoom and placed links on the library’s Facebook page. 

Puentes-Lopez also surveyed parents to find out how she could best support them. She found that many of them didn’t have good internet connections, so she created activity packets to mail or drop off to parents who signed up. She sent out hundreds of packets during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alvarado became one of the participants and received packets with books, finger puppets and activities for children in the home. 

“They had one activity that hid objects in the house,” Alvarado said. “And then encouraged parents to describe where the objects, like the block is under the couch or on top of the chair. They encouraged us to describe colors, like the red backpack. My grandkids loved it.” 

Puentes-Lopez also organized drive-through events, where families could pick up an activity packet and meet Colorado River Indian Tribes tribal leaders or fictional characters, like Dr. Seuss characters, such as the Cat in the Hat.

“In our community, we don’t have a lot of resources, so for her to organize these events, it’s awesome,” said Martha Alvarado.

“For the Dr. Seuss parade, we didn’t have to get out of car. Eli and my other grandkids got hats, stories and bookmarks. They were so happy. It was really good. People need to go out, but they don’t know what to do, so this was really needed.”

With the children being homebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, Alvarado really appreciated the packets with projects to keep her grandchildren occupied and learning. She saw that it really helped Eli to develop his ability to focus. 

“Children learn by being hands on,” said Alvarado. “Children who can’t sit still or have minds that wander, they don’t learn. Eli started to learn to direct his attention. Now he’s learning.”

Alvarado believes that with the support of the library, Eli is getting socially and cognitively ready to succeed in kindergarten. 

Renee Targos is the director of brand advancement at First Things First. You can reach her at rtargos@firstthingsfirst.org.​

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