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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.

Readiness Basket program helps families gather to learn

boy-playingAt the tender age of nine months, Luis moved in with his grandmother Maria Altamirano and her husband Miguel.

Right away, Altamirano could see that Luis had some challenges in his emotional development and in his fine and gross motor skills.

The boy had trouble sitting up on his own. He didn’t make an effort to crawl. And he struggled to pinch objects in an effort to pick up things. Altamirano, who had seen so many years pass since she raised her own children, knew she needed help.

Living in the small town of Paloma, about 80 miles southwest of Phoenix, Altamirano, 57, turned to the Gila Bend Family Resource Center.

Angelica Rodriguez, who runs the Readiness Basket program at the center, thought the grandmother could benefit from the parenting classes offered through the program.

The Readiness Basket program, which First Things First funds, promotes and strengthens the skills of parents and caregivers as the first and most important teachers of their children, with emphasis on early literacy and school readiness.

This program is designed for families and child care providers with kids ages birth to 5. The program consists of 11 learning sessions, parent support groups and a couple of special events, such as a family literacy night.

At the weekly learning sessions, the adults learn that 90 percent of a child’s brain develops before age 5 and that early, quality interactions with caregivers prepare children for success in kindergarten and beyond. Rodriguez models to the adults how babies, toddlers and preschoolers learn through play. While the adults are learning, the children are being cared for and learning in the next room.

For example, Altamirano recalled learning how playing with blocks would help Luis develop the fine and gross motor skills he was lacking while Luis was in the other room playing with blocks and socializing with the other children.

Because of what she learned in the classes, Altamirano used Luis’ love of animals to help him develop nurturing skills. She worked with the boy on basic skills such as measuring out food to feed the family’s horses and goat.

The Readiness Basket program has created a sense of community among the parents and is making a difference for children and their families, said Rodriguez, who travels to Gila Bend on a weekly basis.

She points to Luis and his grandmother as prime examples of Readiness Basket success. Three years after moving in with grandma, Luis is advancing with his age group, with no signs of the delays he showed at nine months old. Altamirano describes her grandson as a “bright child, playful, lovely and social with other kids.”

In addition, Rodriguez recruited Altamirano to assist in the classes when new families sign up for the program.

While most grandparents are getting ready to enjoy their golden years, Altamirano has become a group expert in early childhood. She helps parents understand what milestones to look for in fine and gross motor skills and provides tips to them through her personal experience.

“This is exactly the outcome we want to see from families,” Rodriguez said.

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