OGDEN — More than 3,600 parents and children visited downtown Ogden on Saturday for an afternoon of games, magic shows and exploration at the Treehouse Museum.
But Miss Bindergarten’s Kindergarten Celebration was unique for a simple summertime carnival. It was a way to greet the coming school year, which for most of the children in attendance will be their first ever.
Lynne Goodwin, founding and executive director of the museum, said Saturday's party was the culmination of an all-summer learning and activity program for almost-kindergartners in Ogden, Weber, Box Elder and Morgan school districts.
Treehouse museum worked with those districts over the last few months to send out activity booklets, backpacks and books themed after the Bindergarten children's book series — all designed to encourage children and their parents to prepare for their kindergarten experience. The activities promote knowledge of numbers, letters, identifying patterns and sorting items by category.
"There's a real need for it in our community," Goodwin said. "We looked at research that said a lot of children arrive at school unable to identify letters or colors. We wanted to make sure every parent could be their child's first teacher."
In between entertainment from magicians, animal keepers and a juggler, the kids and a few of their younger siblings navigated mini obstacle courses and completed games involving the alphabet, shapes and numbers.
Children also received free "I'm ready for Kindergarten!" T-shirts Saturday when they handed over a postcard certifying they had completed their various learning activities.
Cheri Walker, a member of the board of trustees at Treehouse Museum, said more than a year of preparation was well worth it to see the reaction of soon-to-be students.
"I think (the best part was) to have children come in, and be so excited to hand back their card that says, 'I've worked all summer long,'" Walker said.
Parents were busy taking photos of their young ones with the furry Miss Bindergarten herself.
"I think it’s a great program," said Lane Selavae, whose son Zaiyel enters kindergarten Monday. "That's why we decided to come check it out, but I didn't think it'd be this fun.“
Selevae said she was impressed with the extent of the summer activities as well. Her family moved a year ago to Ogden from Alaska, she said, where there wasn't as much support from schools.
"We didn't have much of ... programs like this that caters to the families. ... The move that we made here was a great move because (my kids) have never been so active," Selevae said. "(Here) they gave us a whole list — every Saturday there's a certain place that has a free activity or free admission for families to go in."
Selavae hoped to check out the Ogden Nature Center later Saturday, another location with perks for the families of prospective kindergartners.
Estefenia Delgado, from Washington Terrace, has enrolled her daughter in the local Head Start program for the last three years, and this year paired it with the pre-kindergarten activities sent out by the Treehouse Museum.
"That's kind of been our thing for the summer," Delgado said. "Now she's like, 'I'm going to be with the big kids.'"
The summertime activities paid off even in one of the games at Saturday's celebration, according to Delgado.
"Today my daughter was just like, I'm glad I know the alphabet,’ " she said with a laugh.
Every family registered in the program received the learning materials this summer. Just more than 6,000 children in those areas are beginning kindergarten this fall, Goodwin said.
"About 30 to 40 percent of children (are) coming to school unprepared (academically)," Goodwin said. "Kindergarten is such a much more academic program than it used to be. They have to accomplish so much in kindergarten now."
Davis, Cache and Rich school districts will be included in next year's summertime program, ballooning the number of children affected to more than 14,000.
The Treehouse Museum uses funds from the state Legislature, the Ogden-based Stewart Education Foundation and the Weber County RAMP tax to fund the activities.
Contact reporter Ben Lockhart at 801-625-4221 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SE_Lockhart. Like his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/blockhartSE.