The first family arrives, taking a tentative step into the Lee County Elementary cafeteria, glancing around quickly for a familiar face. Jim Tackett, with the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative, greets them and invites them over to fill out some necessary paperwork. While mom is distracted, the little girl hovers close by, unsure of what she should be doing. One of the KET team members asks her what color name badge she would like? She stares back without uttering a word. She’s asked her name and she remains shyly quiet. More families are starting to come in now and her nervousness builds. “I bet I can guess your name. It must be Bob!” The smile finally cracks and KET has made a new friend.
Families aren’t sure what to expect when they first arrive for one of the Ruff Ruffman Family Creative Learning Workshops. They know there will be a meal provided and learning activities, but you can tell by the nervous glances they aren’t yet confident that they will like it. They will soon learn that this multi-week series of workshops, made possible through the Ready-to-Learn grant, helps support families’ development of STEM skills through hands-on creative activities that utilize PBS KIDS’ award-winning media content. At these workshops, families will learn about such topics as mixtures, force and motion, and structures.
The first night is about setting the stage for being open to learning new things and meeting new people. There’s a definite structure to the evening and Amanda Wright, Director of KET Early Childhood Education, keeps the evening moving along at just the right pace. The kids are momentarily separated from the parents and guidelines are set. When the group comes back together, Mary West, Eastern KY RTL Coordinator, regales the entire group with a fun storybook. The kids are delighted to learn they will get to take a copy home at the end of the night.
A short video clip from Ruff Ruffman himself further emphasizes the lesson being taught. The first night, it’s all about mixtures. The hands-on activities really engage the kids and their parents. They create mixtures, a playdough and some trail mix. Everyone is really getting into the evening at this point and we overhear many excited and revelatory comments.
“We don’t do enough things like this as a family. It’s a lot of fun.”
“I never manage to get anything right usually. I can’t believe I helped my son make playdough.”
“Maybe I can help my kids learn about science.”
These moments are why these workshops work so well. It’s not just about the scientific concepts being taught each week, it’s about the sense of empowerment given to the kids and the caregivers that they can all learn and that they can do it together and it be a fun process. Those non-tangible learning tools are perhaps the most important thing the KET team will leave behind.
When the evening is wrapping up, you can tell everyone is surprised at how quickly the time passed. Their excited chatter as they gather their things will mean they return next week and the week after to see what else the workshops have in store for them. By the last week, new friendships have been made and a bond has been formed amongst the group. Everyone walks away glad for the experience and enthusiastic about future learning opportunities.