Art kits promote literacy and family engagement

Published 10:55 am Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Art Center of the Bluegrass has partnered with local early childhood organizations to distribute free art kits that promote literacy and family engagement. The art kits included a board book, a woven finger puppet, a parent engagement activities handout, and supplies to create mixed media wooden hearts.

Thanks to funding from Heart of Kentucky Kids, the MacAdam Early Childhood and Literacy Fund of the Blue Grass Community Foundation and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, the Art Center was able to share more than 150 kits with a dozen organizations throughout Central Kentucky.

Art Center artistic program director Christina Browning says that social emotional development is a critical need for young children, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. “The past two and a half years have been times of unprecedented stress and isolation, the impact of which is felt by every member of our community, but especially by children,” said Browning.

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She says that children benefit from the mind-body connection inherent in the creative process and that art, when combined with reading, can become a powerful tool for emotional development.

The chosen book for the art kits – “I Am Love: A Book of Compassion” by Susan Verde – shares a story of human kindness and helps children develop important vocabulary related to emotional regulation.

Remonica Garr with CASA of the Bluegrass says that the art kits have been a great resource for working with child victims of abuse and neglect.

“It was an exceptional way to introduce them to some emotionally regulating material while also fostering their creativity,” Garr said.

One example she provided was of a young girl who has been moved across multiple cities/counties in the state. Garr shares that the child struggles with her behaviors and sense of belonging and has been diagnosed with ADHD.

“She is compassionate, funny and her path has been a rocky one, but reading and crafts have made a great difference,” Garr said.

Garr says the books have also been useful to their adult volunteers.

“We often speak about self-care both mental and physical,” she said. “Sometimes it takes seeing situations and examples through the eyes of a child to help conscious change come to fruition.”

The Art Center began developing free, take-home art kits in 2020, during the height of the pandemic shutdowns, allowing families to have a creative outlet at home. They initially partnered with Heart of Kentucky Kids to design kits that aligned with children’s books celebrating diversity, compassion, and connection. Art Center Executive Director Niki Kinkade says that the kits were a tremendous success.

“After we launched the art kits, we started to hear from local educators that they would love to have kits to use in family literacy programs,” Kinkade said.

It was that interest that sparked the development of the “Spreading Love” art and literacy kits.

Kinkade says that family engagement was another important goal of the program.

“By providing free books and art kits to families, parents have the opportunity to engage in creative literacy activities with their children,” said Kinkade. “The books themselves become part of the family’s library, increasing the number of books in the home.”

The Art Center worked with a variety of organizations to distribute art kits, including the Gladys Project, Danville Schools Cradle School, CASA of the Bluegrass, Centro Latino, the HANDS program of the Boyle County Health Department, Berea Community Elementary School, Southern Madison County Family Resource Center, Silvercreek Elementary and CASA of Madison County. When choosing partners in surrounding counties, such as Madison County, the focus was on elementary schools with high percentages of PreK students from economically disadvantaged families.

The Art Center will continue creating the ”Spreading Love” art kits which are also available for purchase via the Art Center for families and educators.