VROOM

A poster to promote the Vroom campaign and app adorns a window as schoolchildren exit Cameron Park Zoo. The Prosper Waco kindergarten readiness work group is starting its first parent education campaign through an app called Vroom, which provides games for children as old as age 5. Parents also can pick up paper copies of the games at locations across town, including the zoo, the Mayborn Museum and local health clinics.

Staff photo— Jerry Larson

Parents will have additional help in preparing their toddler for kindergarten through a new Prosper Waco initiative that provides daily activities for families.

Starting this week, businesses across town are passing out fliers and spreading the word about Vroom, a smartphone app that provides interactive brain games parents can do with their toddlers.

The app provides suggestions of daily activities for children up to 5 years old using household items and then explains how those activities prepare children for school, said Anna Burton, chairwoman of the Prosper Waco kindergarten readiness work group.

Burton said the ideas include activities such as filling a water bottle with beans to make music, doing the dishes together or simply reading with your child.

“Something that’s great about it is it also gives you a little bit about the brain research. It talks a little bit about how it’s helping your child get ready for kindergarten,” she said.

Prosper Waco is a nonprofit anti-poverty initiative that helps connect city leaders, other nonprofit groups and activists to help bridge gaps between services.

This is one of the first educational campaigns that has come from Prosper Waco’s kindergarten readiness work group, which is tasked with increasing the number of children ready for kindergarten by 50 percent above the current base line. Burton said the base line hasn’t been identified yet.

Work group members said they decided to start parent outreach with the app because it’s free and could reach the highest number of families because of how accessible it is.

For parents without smartphones, Prosper Waco is printing the activities on cards in both English and Spanish and will have them available at key “family access points” around town. Cameron Park Zoo, the Mayborn Museum and local health clinics are a few of the locations the free cards are available.

Julie Talbert, child care manager for the Heart of Texas Workforce Development Board Inc., said she began promoting Vroom last year with families that come through her office.

Talbert said parents’ responses to the app have been positive.

“If what we can do is begin by increasing the awareness about the importance of getting to kindergarten ready to learn, making sure everyone in the community knows, not just parents of young children, but everyone, about the amazing brain development that happens in the first four years of life, then everything we do after this gets easier,” Talbert said.

Prosper Waco chose kindergarten readiness as one of its educational goals because of how it contributes to future student success. Prosper Waco’s website states that students who enter school already behind their peers have difficulty catching up in later grades.

A 2010 study by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago also links the likelihood of students graduating from high school within five years of starting to whether they read at grade level by third grade.

Of the 26,000 students the study followed through the Chicago Public School system, 15 percent more students graduated high school within five years if they read at grade level by third grade. Only 45 percent of students graduated within five years if they were behind at third grade, compared to the 60 percent of students who graduated within five years and read at grade level in third grade.

The app helps families prepare by creating opportunities for parents to talk to their children and increase their vocabulary, said Mary Konrad, early childhood education coordinator for Waco Independent School District.

By the end of pre-kindergarten, the state recommends students should know at least 20 uppercase letters, 20 lowercase letters and 20 sounds, Konrad said. Students also learn to identify rhyming words, how many words are in a sentence and how to identify syllables before kindergarten, she said.

“When a parent does those activities with the child, there are going to be conversations going on and vocabulary development, just through interaction,” Konrad said.

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