Imagine trying to learn how to use your computer or smart phone without the computer or phone in front of you. Children—and adults too—learn best when they can engage their senses—all of them.

As technology makes our world easier to navigate, it can also eliminate certain motor skills we learned as a child—like turning a button for “on” or “off”.

The Play and Learn program at Reeths-Puffer McMillan School meets mornings twice a week to give children an opportunity to investigate and explore materials and ideas with other children their age. They are playing—but learning lots of sensory skills at the same time.

The program began through a grant from the MAISD. Tish Hoffman, a kindergarten teacher for 23 years, developed the curriculum as she saw more and more children not ready for kindergarten. “Technology is good, but it also reduces certain activities all children learn to do as they grow,” Hoffman said. “Video games are fun to play but then we see small children not wanting to walk on the grass because they haven’t been outside enough.”

Tish Hoffman

Tish Hoffman

Each month has a different theme—farm was the focus the day I visited.The classroom is full of “sensory” tubs on child size tables. Each table focuses on different skills. For example, one table holds play doh—homemade by Hoffman, or Miss Tish as she is called by the children. At another table a child uses tweezers, which helps her prepare to hold pencils. There’s blocks and books and crayons—all fun but all with a purpose.

The morning is simple. First, there is open playtime and then the children pick up and gather in front of Miss Tish for announcements. Then an hour of playtime at each station leads to storytelling. It was a joy to watch.

The program is free, open to anyone in Muskegon County and has a one- time registration. Attendance is not required for every session. Attendance ranges from 25-40 students. Kady Ohs is Hoffman’s assistant—“she keeps me organized” Hoffman said, and the children are accompanied by one of their parents or grandparents.

“I heard about the program from the library,” said Nancy Licatovich, grandmother of Logan and Dylan. “We absolutely love it—the boys get dressed so fast because they know they are going to have fun. The kids love the songs, the stories — it builds self confidence when they are able to achieve the skills at each station,” Licatovich added.

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