Strawberry Mansion: Widener Library Block Party Teaches Vocabulary

It was a sunny and cool afternoon for the Widener Branch Library’s first Words at Play Vocabulary Initiative block party. Words at Play, hosted by PNC, is a community-wide initiative to show the importance of learning vocabulary at a young age through playing, singing and reading.

“It helps families teach their children how to learn new words,” said Naisha Patterson, PNC Words at Play program director. “It’s just really an important movement for the simple fact that these two neighborhoods have low literacy.” w=600 h=338]

This was the second block party by Words at Play with the first taking place at the Cecil B. Moore Library earlier in the year. Words at Play was from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. and focused on the vocabulary word “measure” for the day. Widener Library had more than 10 tables lined up with each dedicated to their own activity of measuring such as height and weight. Tables had blue and orange balloons fluttering in the breeze as children made their way from table to table with their parents in tow.

Brittany Shandler, Museum Educator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, wanted to make sure everyone felt comfortable with learning and art making.

“Everybody learns in different ways through visuals and tactile touching,” Shandler said. “I love to see that little smile on their face when they’ve done something they’re proud of. A lot of kids think they can’t draw but everybody can draw so that to me is just amazing.”

Words at Play operates under PNC Grow up Great, which focuses on helping children from birth to the age of five by providing educational resources. Words at Play works with five organizations including the Free Library of Philadelphia, The Franklin Institute, the Kimmel Center, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Zoo to help provide items for events.

The block party was not only educational for the community but everything at Words at Play was also free. Children read books, colored with crayons, swung their sword balloons, collected their pumpkins, danced to the music and ate as much food as they wanted. Words at Play also had a dance performance, animals from the zoo, drawing and weights for measuring.

“Philadelphia is a city full of cultural institutions but a lot of times people feel intimidated by going in there,” said Naomi Roberson, Coordinator of Community Programs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “This is just a way for [these organizations] to come into a neighborhood and let people take in all of this awesome stuff that we have. I live in this neighborhood so I love being here.”

Terena Clements visited the block party with her son Tyson Hennix because she believes every child should be able to read and it’s important to have educational events.

“We got free books, a free piggy bank, and free food so free is good,” Clements said with a smile. “Coming to the library they always know they have to read books and be on the computer so reading is very important. Everybody should participate.”

Patterson says they really are impacting the community and that they have people who are reading and getting good jobs. She hopes to have the community build up from all the positivity and are already going to have two more block parties next year.

“The behind the scenes stuff you want to pull your hair out but once it gets kicking and you see everyone happy out here it’s all worth it,” Patterson said.

– Text and images by Noe Garcia.

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