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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The YMCA of Greater of Omaha is working to prepare low-income, immigrant and refugee children for school through a program held a few times a week.

The Ready to Learn program teaches parents how to build character and imagination in their children through play, the Omaha World-Herald reported .

“Caregivers are the child’s first teachers,” said Elyse DeTurk, director of Ready to Learn.

The program is offered for free to children from birth to age 5 and their caregivers, along with a complimentary YMCA membership. The class is funded by Pacific Life, United Way and individual donations.

This year’s program includes 30 children and more than 20 caregivers so far. They meet for two hours three times a week.

Sussire Hernandez, who works part time for the program, said the group includes caregivers from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, China, Morocco and Venezuela.

DeTurk said three-quarters of the participants primarily speak a language besides English at home.

During the program, children use 13 stations with different educational and developmental activities, including an infant area. Instructors determine the amount of time they discuss parenting strategies with caregivers based on how well the children are behaving.

“Some parents believe that education starts when they go to school,” DeTurk said. “We want to make sure that they know that they are the first teacher.”

Suleny Batista began going to the classes two weeks ago with her 13-month-old daughter, Ciara, and 3-year-old son, Maxwell.

“I really like it,” she said, “’cause they get to learn how to sit down for the moment and listen to storytime, dance to kids’ songs and enjoy the company of all the kids that we don’t have in the house.”


Information from: Omaha World-Herald,