Students of our Ficalora Family Foundation Head Start Center in Woodside got a big surprise last week: a visit by the lovable red Sesame Street character, Elmo.
The excitement was palpable as the preschoolers spotted him and shouted, “Oh my God, it’s Elmo!”
The friendly monster’s visit was courtesy of the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation and its Week of Giving. Volunteers from IICF came to both our Woodside and Corona Head Start centers to bring an IICF-Sesame Street Literacy project to the children. The volunteers read books about Elmo and joined the children in making puppets, bookmarks, and drawings. Each child received a small activity sticker book to take home, and parents were given the packet “Every Day is a Reading and Writing Day” from the Sesame Street literacy website to give them ideas to promote their children’s literacy skills every day.
Elmo visited every classroom and gave lots of hugs to children (and staff!). But the non-costumed volunteers made just as big an impression on the children.
“The volunteers were so good,” said Lead Teacher Ashley Copperstone. “They were so engaging. They broke down the projects step by step so the children were able to accomplish them. They also just really seemed to be enjoying themselves, which kids pick up on.”
Copperstone also noted that her students paid close attention when the volunteers were reading. “The listening process is an important developmental milestone, and having different people come to read helps them develop it. Later, when I asked my students about what they’d heard, they were able to re-tell—another important skill.”
Although it was a literacy-focused event, says Copperstone, the most important benefit may not have been directly related to any academic milestone. “Children see their parents and teachers all the time. It’s important for them to learn to interact with different people. This visit helped them build ties with people they wouldn’t normally see, and it strengthened their social-emotional ties to the larger community. To experience others caring about them like that, and investing their time in them, helps them feel more confident about themselves.”
The day had a big effect not just on the children, but the volunteers, too. “IICF’s annual Week of Giving brings out thousands of volunteers from the insurance industry, in many cases competitors from different companies, to work side by side in their communities,” explains event organizer Elizabeth Myatt, executive director of the Northeast Division of the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation. “The Child Center Head Start children and teachers definitely inspired our volunteers to want to do more. IICF’s national priority is early literacy, and our partner in literacy is Sesame Workshop, so we hope to return for another literacy project during Week of Giving 2017. As Elmo was saying goodbye, one child predicted that we’d be back as he called out, ‘See you next time, Elmo!’”
Anyone interested in arranging volunteer visits or donations to our Head Start centers can contact Marie Mason, Education Director, at 718-943-2800.