Todos Juntos focuses on literacy skills, problem solving for children in Clackamas County

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: SHAWNA JOHNSON - Students in the River Mill Elementary Timbers Club participate in a variety of fun and educational activities.

Twice a week after school, a group of young students at River Mill Elementary spends time playing with Legos.

At first glance, this may simply seem like a fun activity, but it's more than that. The students are working to replicate patterns with the colored blocks — an early introduction to problem solving.

These critical thinking, Lego-building students are enrolled in the Timbers Club, an afterschool enrichment program for River Mill kindergarteners and first-graders organized by Todos Juntos.

In addition to crafting Lego creations, students go on treasure hunts based on vocabulary words, work on art projects and engage in themed activities related to books they've discussed.

"It's a fun and interactive (way to learn)," said Shawna Johnson, regional family resource and program manager for Todos Juntos.

Todos Juntos is a Clackamas County-based group that partners with schools and other local organizations to create more resources for children, teens and parents. The organization offers programs focusing on leadership and youth development, peer mediation and parenting education, among other topics. In addition to Estacada, programs are available in Sandy, Canby and Molalla.

Todos Juntos has been at Estacada Middle School for several years, but programming for Estacada's youngest students is a more recent addition that began in 2016.

In addition to the Timber's Club, the organization's early childhood programming includes a class for preschoolers and their parents called "Little Chippers" and partners with local teachers to offer a "Jumpstart Kindergarten" course. They've also teamed up with the Estacada Public Library to host a weekly bilingual storytime.

Much of the organization's programming for younger children focuses on building literacy skills so they can find success in school and other areas of life.

"(It's important to) immerse kids in print," Johnson said. "In third grade, they begin learning from reading instead of learning to read. If a child is still learning to read (at that point), they're playing catch up."

In the "Little Chippers" classes, children spend time working on craft projects while parents watch educational videos. Eventually, the two groups come together for storytime.

At the end of each class, students receive a free book and bag with resources to help them develop their motor skills, such as crayons, pencils and play dough.

The emphasis on literacy continues in Todos Juntos' "Jumpstart Kindergarten" course. Led by local kindergarten teachers, the two-week class helps students with the transition to school, and lessons focus on poems, singing and children learning to spell their names.

Johnson noted that the courses can also help with developing social skills.

She added that parents are typically some of the most important teachers for their children, particularly during their early years when they are developing skills they'll use for the rest of their lives. Particularly when helping with reading, context is valuable.

"Apply reading to everything they do, and make conversations meaningful," she suggested. "(When you're in the grocery store), tell them, 'help me pick out the green apple.' Let them see the words."

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