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The UNC Preschool Writing Project team has created at-home learning packets for more than 200 families to be distributed through local Head Start programs in order to support families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The literacy packets, which contain alphabet activities, literacy-based scavenger hunts, and art projects, will be distributed in east Durham in early May as part of a food distribution program.

Lara Costa
Lara Costa

Lara Costa, project director for the Writing Skills Development Program, and her team have spent the past several weeks repurposing literacy resources to accompany the food distribution effort.

“Our families are at home and might be searching for age-appropriate and simple learning activities to do with their children, so we wanted to provide something for our families to do during this difficult time,” Costa said.

Costa said she hopes that sharing literacy resources will continue as long as needed in both Durham and Orange Counties. She credited strong relationships with Head Start and the Chapel Hill Training Outreach Project, which supports Head Start, with her ability to distribute the packets quickly and in a way that’s accessible to most families.

“Not everybody has a computer and the internet,” Costa said. “So, we knew providing online resources could be helpful, but that those resource wouldn’t reach everybody. We wanted to find a way to reach more people.”

Costa said she hopes families will feel relief and support knowing that organizations can provide resources that may be useful for their children to continue to learn while the pandemic has restricted attendance at preschools or daycares.

“These children are at a very critical time in their development, especially with language and literacy skills,” Costa said. “We don’t want them to miss out on opportunities during this time so they can continue to be prepared for kindergarten.”

Costa said the activities included in the packet are designed to be easy and fun; she suggested that an older sibling might be able to help with the projects.

“We hope that maybe parents don’t have to do it all,” Costa said. “They’re simple enough tasks that most of the family should be able to help.”

The UNC Preschool Writing Project is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) via an award to the UNC School of Medicine Department of Allied Health Sciences. The principal investigator, Stephen Hooper, said he is proud of his team’s efforts, especially during the pandemic.

“In addition to continuing to work on project-related activities during this difficult time, Dr. Costa and team members were caring enough about our Head Start population that they have assembled and distributed these emergent literacy activities to keep our three- and four-year old children engaged in learning,” Hooper said. “This was done with an eye toward encouraging them to have fun with the activities and reaching as many families as possible.”

Lara Costa, PhD, holds degrees from UNC-Wilmington and UNC-Chapel Hill and is a research specialist for the Department of Allied Health Sciences.

Stephen Hooper, PhD, is an associate dean of medicine and chair of the DAHS, a role he has served since 2013.