SARASOTA, FL – When the Ringling College of Art and Design students are first introduced to the Children First playground, they appear tentative and shy in the face of the exuberant, playing children. However, after just a few minutes, they have been swallowed up in play: one is being chased by about seven or eight kids from end to end of the playground, another is being “wrassled” to the ground by three rambunctious, laughing boys, and a gaggle of girls is enjoying book after book being read with great care by two of the college students.
The college students are part of the “Writing Picture Books” class at Ringling College. Their visits to area schools and children’s programs are to help remind the young adults what it was like to be a little kid, and to better inform their attempts to entertain and educate children through their art. The class will visit Children First and a local elementary school several times over the course of the semester; students also visit bookstores and libraries.
Instructor Sylvia Whitman, who is part of the new Creative Writing program at Ringling College, believes the interaction with kids helps to inform the voice and expression of her students, and fosters empathy for the struggles of children who may be coming from a very different experience than what the students may ever have known.
“It’s great for budding picture book writers to get to know their audience,” Whitman says. “My students generally don’t have much contact with other age groups. At Children First they meet preschoolers but also learn about the challenges of poverty. It’s really eye-opening – sad but also inspiring. Good teachers, and good books, can make such a difference. We’re so lucky to be able to do this.”
For Children First, the partnership offers a chance to receive attention and support from a different age group than their teachers or dedicated volunteer corps. “This is a wonderful opportunity for our children to enjoy visits from people who came just for them, who are paying undivided attention to them,” said Children First development manager Samantha Kingsley. “It’s also wonderful for them to interact with young, positive role models. They see what their future could be.”
Children First is Sarasota County’s exclusive provider of Head Start and Early Head Start services. Through its programs, Children First cares for the “whole child,” ensuring they receive the care and tools necessary to succeed in kindergarten and for a lifetime. For more information about Children First, please call (941) 953-3877 or go to childrenfirst.net.