Each Tuesday morning a group of about 15 two- to five-year-olds rushes through the door in Brewer Townhouse at University of Lynchburg for an hour and a half of play. They don’t know how many things they are learning.
“They are getting opportunities to interact with other people. Social skills are defined within us by 5 or 6,” said Gerin Martin ’09 MEd, (left) an LC alumna and Lynchburg City Schools early childhood special education teacher who directs the play group.
The children are a diverse group, some with developmental delays and some without, and they get along just fine as they sit on a mat with Martin singing songs and clapping hands. Later they break into smaller groups to play with miniature trains and blocks or paint. They learn, Martin said, that not everybody is the same. They are making friendships and talking more.
“It’s all about the interaction with the kids,” said Jessica “Jessie” Bayne ’13, a graduate student in the counseling program. “I have learned how to manage conflict between children,” she said.
Leah Horton, (right) also a graduate student in counseling, wants to be an elementary school counselor. “This has been great for me to work with the parents as well as the children,” she said.
A parent or guardian of the children with developmental delays is required to attend because they also have a chance to learn how to make play more productive and interactive.
“This has been awesome,” said Kim Hibbard, who has been bringing John to the play group since September. “What I learn here, I take home. Catching them early is key.”
Hibbard has custody of John, a lively three-year-old who runs in giant circles around the room. “He’s come a long way since starting with Hutcherson,” she said. “He’s learned to share.”
The program is a collaboration between LC and Hutcherson Early Learning Center, the Lynchburg City Schools’ preschool program for students with special needs. Hutcherson offers a similar play group at Daniel’s Hill Neighborhood Center on Wednesdays.
LC provides a free space for the play group, while also having a great space for LC undergraduate and graduate students to gain skills, said Merrill Tolbert, associate professor in the School of Education.
“We’re doing something that’s research-based,” she said. “There’s a lot of modeling for active learning, as well as implementing challenging behavior plans.”
Eric Grossman ’15, (left) a teacher education major and US Air Force veteran who came to LC on the Post 9/11 GI Bill, said the program is part of his search to find the best match for him in. “I’m learning how to react with the younger ones,” he said, just before a tiny boy plopped in his lap to read. As head soccer coach at Heritage High School, Grossman said he has been leaning toward working at the high school level, but he want to explore all options.
Lisa Thaxton ’14, (below) an elementary education major, is working with the play group for her practicum. She said the program is great preparation for the children and it has also helped her focus. “I’ve learned I want to work with little kids,” she said.
The play group has room for a few more children. Contact Merrill Tolbert at 544.8484 or for more information.
Check out coverage in The News & Advance.