05-11-2021


A grandmother pulls her SUV into the parking lot of the Clayton County Library Headquarters on a sunny, spring morning, and the boy in the backseat can barely contain his excitement—he jumps around in his car seat and tries to peer out between the woman’s headrest and cracked window.

For months, the boy’s watched videos of his teachers online as they led him through United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Learning Spaces early learning curriculum. He’s learned shapes, letters, has sung songs and danced along with others in the comfort of his own home.

Today’s different, though, and he gets to go to a “Literacy Pop-up,” at the library he hasn’t seen in months.

Learning Spaces is an early-learning initiative designed for caregivers, childcare providers and children birth to 5 years old.

“We start them from 0 to age 5—you can still read along to children while they are in your belly,” says Lenore Carter, lead site facilitator at the library. “This is for parents that may not be able to afford childcare right now, so they can still do this home.”

Learning Spaces was designed to help meet the needs of children during their early developmental years before they are old enough to attend kindergarten—it offers a quality, formal preschool program that occurs in nontraditional places like libraries.

“We pull strategies from Creative Curriculum… I’ve been doing early childhood education for 30-plus years, so we can pretty much just see a theme and then our ideas start to flow,” Carter says. “We look at what the children need at each age group, and we look at the infants, preschool and toddlers and plan accordingly.”

The format for teaching has changed drastically since March 2020, when, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, cities across the United States imposed a semi-quarantine that saw the shutdown of gyms, bars, restaurants, retail spaces and government buildings like the libraries in Clayton.

So, without the ability to teach face-to-face with students, Learning Spaces facilitators began creating their own content to share online for families teaching their kids at home. In summer 2020, they began with these Literacy Pop-up events.

“We do this the last week of the month at each of our four locations, and while our library is open, we’re not having in-person programs,” says Rebecca James, assistant director of Youth Services. “We want to remind them that Learning Spaces and the activities and lessons for children has continued through our YouTube Channel and the Pop-ups.”

Each month, facilitators put together at least 50 bags at each location to pass out to families in the community, James says.

“We want to put at least one book in every bag for the children, and then a snack, water, some information about Learning Spaces and about other literacy resources,” she says. “We also try to pull out community partners that are able to come and give them more information.”

The car pulls up and is met by either James, Carter, other instructors or nonprofit partners—on this day it’s Children’s Museum of Atlanta. The driver fills out a short form giving them information about their household and the children of that household—whether he’s in the backseat looking over his grandmother’s shoulder, or at home with someone waiting for her to return.

Once the form is completed, one of the team members collects a handful of bags and passes them through the window. It’s that easy. The car drives away, and another replaces it in line.

“Our pop-ups have been doing great because we try to always be creative,” Carter says. “We’ve been passing out fliers in the community and we call them the day before we have a pop-up if they filled out the survey.

“We want to let them know we started opening up, and we say bring your children the days we have music, movement and story time—the same thing we do in the video, we can do out here. What we do online, we can do on the lawn.”

This adds to United Way’s mission of improving the well-being of children in Greater Atlanta’s 13 counties. United Way wants to give children all the tools they need from the start to set them up for a successful future. If children aren’t strong readers, their opportunities are limited—work, school or in life. We want to make sure they grow up to become strong learners. 

You can help improve educational outcomes for children by expanding early learning opportunities, increasing support outside of school and helping to improve the health and financial stability of families.

We’ve improved the lives of 82,000 children, but we can do more. We know every child whose life we change will go on to change the lives of countless others, and when we work together our community impact grows exponentially to create an equitable future for all.

These Literacy Pop-Ups are scheduled April through June 2021 at each cohort in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas and Fulton counties. Contact learningspaces@unitedwayatlanta.org if you have questions or want to learn more.

“We’ve rebuilt our base so that we know when we’re able to resume in-person programming, we have these families coming in and participating,” James says.

Work this important is never over or done alone. Can children, families and Greater Atlanta communities count on you? Unite for more today.