Jenny Smith of the Eastern YMCA plays a game with, from left, Antonio Cole, 4, Meraina Castillo, 4, and Alyssa Hudson, 3.
While sitting on his mother's lap, Carson Aldrich, 5, listened intently at the Eastern Community YMCA last week to find out how the Grinch stole Christmas.
Carson has been regularly attending the new preschool program at the YMCA since it opened in September, said his mother, Catherine, of Genoa.
She said she chose to send her son to the Eastern YMCA because she likes that it incorporates the Early Learning Initiative (ELI) - a program funded and sponsored by the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
The free program, which started last year, is available for income-eligible children between 3 and 5 who are not yet in kindergarten and who have at least one parent who works at least one hour a week. Families who do not fall into this bracket may have to pay a co-pay.
Through the program, children receive health and developmental screenings, nutritional meals and snacks, 3 1/2 hours of daily educational instruction, and swimming lessons.
The program also offers children activities supporting their growing understanding of how the world works, experiences with books and reading, guidance to support their growing social skills, and time to play and be creative through music and art activities.
Mrs. Aldrich said it's important to her that her son starts learning early and begins to socialize with other children so he'll be ready to step into a kindergarten classroom.
Victoria Olvera, 4, takes a break to enjoy breakfast.
"I think it's awesome because it's really good for his advancement," she said.
The Eastern Community YMCA, 2960 Pickle Rd. in Oregon, is the first YMCA on the east side to offer the state initiative, said Diana Jacobson, family program director at the Eastern YMCA.
"The ELI program is based on getting preschoolers that big head start and a positive beginning to their school careers," she said. "If they fall in love with learning now, it's so much easier later."
The free program also is available at the following child-care centers in Toledo: Wayman D. Palmer Community YMCA; Alexis Program Center; Summit Plaza YMCA; South Toledo YMCA, and the West Program Center.
The program is so popular at the South Toledo YMCA that officials are opening another classroom to place children who have been on a waiting list , said Becky Spencer, YMCA vice president of child development.
Ms. Spencer said space often is available in the program because of the large number of children - 33 percent - moving on to kindergarten each year.
She said 115 children are enrolled in the program through the YMCA, but there is still room for more than 40 children - eight of whom can join the classroom at the eastern YMCA.
Officials said they are hoping to add the initiative to other locations in the future.
"If kids can get a great start in the beginning, it makes it easier on them," said Rob Thomas, communications coordinator for the YMCA.
For more information, contact YMCA and JCC Child Care Services at 419-474-3995.