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Early Childhood Resource Lab

Stuffed alligator and books
Families can borrow kits that introduce their young kids to reading. 

Every year, teachers must dig deep into their own pockets to purchase extra materials for their classroom.  

Bulletin boards, puppet materials and laminating fees can quickly add up to an additional $500 over the course of a school year, particularly for early childhood educators who frequently use visual aids and crafts in their lessons.

Now, however, local educators can breathe a sigh of relief thanks to a new initiative at the Akron-Summit County Public Library. With the help of a $35,000 grant from Akron Community Foundation, the library opened the Early Childhood Resource Lab, which gives teachers access to the materials and equipment they need for their classrooms. 

The lab is geared for teachers of preschool through third grade and features an Ellison Die Cut Machine, a laminating machine, a paper cutter, a binding machine and other useful equipment. Youth Services Coordinator Carolyn Burrier said the die cutting machine has been a big hit with teachers because it allows them to create letters, numbers, shapes and puppets that would normally be a painstaking, expensive process. 

"The Ellison machine just makes material crafts much easier for them," she said. "It can cut four or five pieces of paper at one time, and it can also cut craft foam, felt and other materials that are not always easy to cut with scissors."

Latoia Philpott, a preschool teacher at Rosa's Playhouse, said she is excited to have access to the die cutter because it will save her money when she is making craft supplies for her day care class.

"Those machines are expensive!" she said. "I was so excited to see they had one here."

In addition, the die cutter can create visual aids for educators who are teaching basic skills like tying shoelaces. With the machine, teachers can create shoe-like shapes with holes for the kids to practice lacing.

"It makes teaching so much fun," said lab coordinator Vicky Van der Schyf.

In order to use the resource lab, teachers only need to have a library card and complete a 30-minute orientation session. Van der Schyf said fees for the laminating machines will remain low because the library charges only what it costs for the film. This is a huge advantage for people like Katie Collard, an educator at Born Learning who brings craft-based lessons to the homes of local children. 

"We probably wouldn't be able to do crafts with the kids if we weren't able to come here and use these resources," she said.

Teachers aren't the only ones who are benefiting from the resource center. The library also purchased dozens of Kits for Kids that parents can check out to enhance their child's education. Each kit includes six books, a DVD or CD, and a toy that relates to a specific theme. Topics range from apples and colors to friends and self-esteem. In addition, parents can check out books and DVDs that specifically focus on early childhood education, many of which contain activities to supplement classroom lessons. 

For the last few years, Akron Community Foundation's board has directed the majority of its education grants to early learning initiatives like the library's resource center. The board decided to take a proactive approach to education funding after discovering that every dollar invested in early education produces a $17 return.

And so far, Burrier said, teachers using the resource lab are reaping exponential rewards.

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