By Iao Katagiri and Barbi Appelquist
It’s springtime in Santa Monica and what a beautiful spring it is! Everywhere you look, plants are flourishing, flowers are blooming, buds are sprouting, all exuberantly healthy thanks to the winter rains. As the rain has helped our gardens bloom and thrive, so, too, does Santa Monica continue to create opportunities that help our children bloom and thrive. The Arts & Literacy Festival at Virginia Avenue Park is one place to take advantage of these efforts.

On Saturday, April 29, Virginia Avenue Park will become a wonderland for Santa Monica’s youngest children – babies, toddlers, preschoolers and children up to five (although older children will have a great time, too) – for the 3rd Annual Arts & Literacy Festival. The theme is “The Secret Garden.” If you have young children, don’t miss this event. The festival beautifully illustrates how our city is translating our aspirations for all Santa Monica children into fun, active community programs and events that help children and families learn and thrive.

Fostering a community partnership to Learn + Thrive is one of five strategic goals established by the City Council. Learn + Thrive encompasses and builds on the work of Cradle to Career (C2C), with “Collective Impact” as a central organizing principle. It encourages the existing resources in our community to communicate, collaborate, share data, and work – each in their own way and collectively – toward shared community goals to ensure that our young children have the best chance to learn and thrive.

What does collective impact look like? Well, one of its faces is the Arts & Literacy Festival. The festival is a joint effort by the Pico Branch of the Santa Monica Public Library and Virginia Avenue Park, in partnerhship with organizations and agencies throughout Santa Monica that share an interest and expertise in young children. Designed to be a fun, family event – free music, theatre, magic, games, story-telling, costume parade, even a “secret garden” where children can meet and talk to their favorite book characters — each activity is also purposeful, bringing to life the foundational recommendations in the C2C kindergarten readiness campaign, Building Blocks for Kindergarten.

C2C identified the need for a kindergarten readiness campaign – Ready Children, Ready Families, Ready Schools, Ready Santa Monica – from data presented in the first Youth Wellbeing Report Card (2012). That baseline data found only 48% of Santa Monica children as being developmentally on track for kindergarten. In the five years since C2C began collecting this data, we’ve seen an average 4% increase each year; 2016 data show that 65% of children now are on track for kindergarten! We cannot attribute this steady improvement to any single factor, but we want to keep that trend going.

Young children learn through play. Bring your child to the Virginia Avenue Park Arts & Literacy Festival, learn and play together, register for preschool at SMMUSD, and pick up some tips on how you can help your child be ready to thrive in kindergarten. It will be fun for the whole family. Bring a picnic!

We are proud to be part of a community that cares for its youngest children. See you at Virginia Avenue Park on April 29, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.!

Barbi Appelquist and Iao Katagiri are Co-Chairs, Santa Monica Child Care & Early Education Task Force

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