Share This Page

Fox Chapel Area program stirs creativity with hands-on activities

| Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Jan Pakler | for The Herald
Iain McDonald paints with his son Julian McDonald, 3, at the Kerr Elementary literacy program.

Nathan Begg, 5, spent an afternoon counting a box full of blocks and matching them by size and color.

With his mother, Jennifer, Nathan plopped down on a brightly colored carpet in a Kerr Elementary School classroom to talk about numbers, textures and shape.

It's all in a day's work at the new Fox Chapel Area Creativity and Literacy Program, which opened last month with two locations. One is at the Kerr campus along Kittanning Pike, and the other is at Volunteers of America's All of Us Care along Main Street in Sharpsburg.

With its expanded emphasis on science, technology, engineering, math and medicine, or STEMM, skills, the facility takes the place of the Fox Chapel Area School District's former Family Literacy Center, which focused solely on reading.

“We want them to learn how the world works through trial and error, and not be afraid to fail,” Director Alison Francis said of students in the program.

Aimed at children ages 3 to 5, the new courses highlight 21st century creativity, exploration, design and play skills, Francis said.

“It's project-based learning, so it's all hands-on,” said Francis, who spent the last four years as a kindergarten teacher at Fairview Elementary School.

“We want them to learn to be flexible in their thinking and adept at problem-solving so they are not afraid to fail.”

For example, last week's lesson focused on learning to print with textures. Students crafted a stamp from string and paper, and then used it.

The aim is for the young minds to realize that learning is not cut and dried. There's more than one way to create a stamp, Francis said.

“Performance is their feedback,” she said. “If it works, then it's done properly. If it doesn't, we go back and try again.”

Parent Kate Parker said she attends with her 5-year-old son, Harrison, to help him become familiar with the school setting, in preparation for entering kindergarten next year.

They spent a portion of the class working on fine motor skills, fitting tools into holes in a workbench.

Begg, with Nathan, worked on matching blocks.

“I didn't know if it would be challenging enough for him but the activities are hands-on and he's thrilled with that,” she said. “He definitely takes home the lessons and talks about them there.”

Francis said the tactile learning environment seems to lead to increased creativity.

“It's really an open-ended program. I'm seeing them using objects in unexpected ways,” she said.

“As adults, we have a clear idea of what PVC pipe is for but here, they can use it as an instrument, a piece of a sculpture or as a ball shoot. Their creativity is driving them.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.