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Learning can be a fun family activity

Stacie Wharton, Title 1 parent educator at Westside Elementary, prefers to be called a parent involvement coordinator because she so strongly believes that active parent/school relationships are vital to helping children succeed.

Eight years ago, as a parent whose child needed a little extra help with math, Wharton stepped into the Family Center at Westside with her son.

The parent educator made several recommendations, including, as Wharton recalls, the Frog Game, a board game played with cards, that helps with math-building skills.

Wharton often played the game with her then 9-year-old son. And with the "practice makes perfect" idea behind the game, he began to grasp the concepts and did better.

Now Wharton counsels other parents, like Pam Boatwright, whose 7-year-old son was below grade level in reading.

"What impressed me is that they said all the materials were scientifically proven to help with learning, and the Family Center is full of stuff to help (children) learn," said Boatwright.

Family Centers in Hernando County's elementary schools offer parents many resources for helping their children with reading, math and other subjects.

But the materials are also useful for gifted children who need extra stimulation or challenges. Resources include board and electronic games, videos, flash cards and more. Parents can use these materials at the center with their children or check them out for use at home.

At the middle schools, the resources are primarily informational, referrals and technology based. At Fox Chapel, parent educator Martha Mintner says their Family Center is set up to simulate the comforts of a living room, where families can "settle in."

They provide referrals to community resources and services and hope to soon set up computers and computer training for parents.

Boatwright uses the Westside Family Center as a fun place to go for their weekly family nights.

"My middle son is into science stuff, so he likes to go there to see what they have on science," she said. And she also used the Family Center to get her 5-year-old daughter off to a good start in kindergarten by getting information on writing the alphabet.

For parents, the Family Center is also a place to meet with other parents and socialize or exchange information that will help with problems they may be having, according to Boatwright.

"Where else can you go and get (free) these kinds of materials? Some of the games they have are very interesting and can really help your child learn. But a lot of families can't go and buy these games because they're too expensive. You can go to the Family Center and check them out."

Family Centers are located in Brooksville, Deltona, Eastside, Moton, Pine Grove, Spring Hill and Westside elementary schools and in Fox Chapel, Parrott and West Hernando middle schools.

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