An Interview with Colette Wilson, Family Educator with Milton Promise Community Initiative
By Beth Truzansky
Colette Wilson is an enthusiastic educator and natural community builder. She is working as a Family Educator with the Milton Family Community Center, hired to engage families through playgroups, to support early child development, connect parents and kids to supports they need, and build community in Milton. Her role is in support of Milton’s Promise Community initiative funded by Vermont’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant.
On Saturdays she works with a team of facilitators to host playgroups at the Milton Elementary School gym or the Cornerstone Church which will move outside to Bombardier Park now that the weather is warmer.
The playgroups are one way Milton’s Promise Community group is working to ensure all children in Milton thrive with the support of an engaged and connected community. The Promise Community group has also helped fund recreation equipment, programming and supplies at the library, a drop-in art program on Sundays with the Milton Artist Guild, and will offer kids activities at the town farmers’ market this summer.
All of these activities are ways to connect kids and families to build a stronger community, amd support kids in the development of skills toward greater success in school and life. Milton is a community of 10,300 people in Northern Chittenden County. The home ownership rate in Milton is 69%, so while the community is pretty stable, many people are not connected to town life; perhaps in part because of the rural nature of the town. Many people live in Milton but work elsewhere and don’t know much about what is offered in the community.
The Saturday playgroups have been a huge success. The playgroup hosted by Milton Family Community Center is part of a network of free playgroups offered by Parent Child Centers and other community based agencies across the state. Playgroups provide a safe and accessible environment for children and parents or other caregivers. They are usually for children age birth to age five. They all have a facilitator and include some planned and open play time with a mix of large and small motor activities and literacy, art or singing.
Colette Wilson, the playgroup facilitator, has an interesting background. She is a mother and grandmother, has run the Milton Afterschool program, has taught parenting classes and middle school math, and been a dorm parent to name a few of her many roles. I sat down with her and hope you will continue to read about our conversation and her approach to family engagement and child development.
Beth Truzansky (BT): What are you hoping to create through your work as a Family Educator?
Colette Wilson (CW): I’m hoping to bring people together to talk and build community. If one person doesn’t know where to go for help, they at least know one other person they can go to. It’s about creating a network. I think it’s important people realize that right in their own backyard there are free playgroups and story times that are great for learning and connecting with their children, as well as connecting with others. I think it’s so important to connect with your children.
BT: What are ways you foster connection and community?
CW: I talk to parents about what they would like to improve in the community. I was talking to a dad who mentioned there was not shade in the park close to the kids’ climbing structure. I shared that suggestion with Recreation department staff at a recent Promise Community meeting. The dad said, ‘I’m so glad someone listened!’
I always share relevant local information at playgroups. Last week, I brought information from the library about their evening Pajama Story Time event. A parent said “Oh, I’m so glad there is something like this happening, I didn’t know!” We talked about how great it is to get the kids dinner, a bath and put them in PJs and take them to the library for a story. And there are free books!”
BT: What does success look like?
CW: For me, success is the child I saw recently at playgroup. When she and her mom fist started coming, she was shy and they did stuff in a corner without engaging with others. Last Saturday, she walked into playgroup, her eyes lit up at the sight of people she now knows and ran and engaged in the activity. This shows to me that this is a safe space and place where they belong.
Success is also parents who will come over and say ‘I need some help, can you help me figure this out?’ When someone has a good experience, the message spreads into the community. When our playgroups first started, I had someone come and take pictures. I approached them and asked what they were doing. They said ‘I think what you are doing here is great and I have a friend who is shy. I’m going to share these pictures with her, show her what a nice place this is.’ Sure enough, her friend came the following week.
Wilson creates this structure with particular attention to creating a warm, welcoming environment. She shared, “I admit, I don’t put out chairs, but I put down rugs and encourage adults to sit and connect with their kids. I can see over time parents and kids are connecting more deeply and parents are talking to each other. They connect with each other about what they are doing with their kids.
BT: The goal of Promise Communities is to help kids develop skills they will need to be successful in kindergarten and in life. How are you helping the Milton community do this for kids?
CW: Each of our playgroups is designed to highlight a domain related to kindergarten readiness. I want to help kids develop these skills, and help parents understand the skill and how to continue the learning at home.
I take out the big parachute – if you haven’t seen it, it’s a lot of fun. Here you have a group of parents working together to hold the parachute open in a big circle. The kids run under the parachute or I call out movements they can do. It’s a great learning opportunity. You have a group of kids that are working together socially. Of course they don’t know they are learning social skills; they don’t know they are learning coordination or how to follow directions, but they are! These are all skills they will need to be successful in school and in life. They don’t need to know its happening, but they do need to be exposed to learn those skills.
I use other activities to facilitate learning in other domains. For eye-hand coordination I set up a clothesline between two poles and hang pool noodles. The kids can practice hitting and touching them. Another day we focused on balance and coordination with a balance beam and other rubber shapes on the ground to walk on.
I work with my facilitators to know what the focus skill is, how the activities engage the child and how to use this language with families whether it’s about a child stacking blocks, observing patterns, balancing on a beam or learning to work together with other children. Parents are both engaged, as well as stepping back and observing their child more.
BT: Some kids develop skills through formal childcare settings, what is added when you have parents or family members at playgroup engaged with their children?
CW: It’s important for parents and children to connect. And when parents or family members come to playgroup together, they are learning together. The parent is learning what to look for in their child’s development and how to create simple games for the child to learn at home.
Helping kids learn, at any age, is my passion. I love creating opportunities for parents and children to spend time together. To learn how to be together. That it’s ok to sit down on the floor, get a little dirty, and be a little goofy.
When a dad came into playgroup, at first he was a little unsure and in two weeks he is on the belly scooter getting pulled by his son, that’s success because they are connecting and they are playing.
If you are in the area, check out Saturdays at the Park with Colette. Meet at Bombardier Park in Milton. Note: the group will not meet if it is raining. Dates: May 12, 19 June 2, 9, 23 July 14, 21, 28 August 4 & 11. Time: 10:00am – 11:30 am. For more information on the Milton Promise Community Initiative go to their Facebook page here or call the Milton Family Community Center at 802-893-1457.
Chittenden Regional Coordinator
Building Bright Futures