Families First turns to "summer camps" to help little ones learn

Posted at 1:24 PM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 15:26:34-04

MISSOULA - It's not just adults who've struggled to adjust during the past two years of the pandemic — little ones have also missed out on a lot. But now, a long-running Missoula program is hoping to give pre-schoolers a chance to catch up on learning by offering summer camps for the first time

Among the programs making a home in the new Missoula Public Library is the Families First Learning Lab, an effort launched 28 years ago that's now helping that first generation of kids with parent education and support, and helping their little ones with early childhood literacy and education.

"We want to support the parents and their parenting journey because we know parenting is hard. But we also want to show up for children and right now it's really hard for kids to be able to get out there and play. And especially during the last couple of years when we've been in midst of a global pandemic, we've seen children not be able to have social connections, and so we're really trying to foster learning through play in our new library home." - Families First Learning Lab executive director Hannah Zuraff

Families First Learning Lab is offering "summer camps" for the first time, focusing on things like "amazing animals", "406 Friends" and "Kinder Cooks". The summer program is specifically geared to help pre-kindergarten and post-kindergarten kids make that transition into a lifetime of learning."

"The idea behind it is to help with kids going into kindergarten or kids leaving. So it's at kindergarten readiness piece in that socialization piece that meets with intentional play," explained Families First Learning Lab child enhancement director Katie Little.

So kids will get to come and they will get to experience all the fun things of camp, all while getting to play with intentional toys, objects, things like that and learning just these social cues and etiquette and things that are important for when you're about ready to make that big transition to kindergarten.

Hannah Zuraff
Families First Learning Lab Executive Director Hannah Zuraff.

"We're part of an early learning fellowship in Missoula and one of the initiatives is helping with kindergarten readiness," Little said. "So this program not only will be awesome for kiddos to come and enjoy, but it's really a part of a bigger community-wide initiative."

It's an important investment and for Zuraff, it's rewarding to see the results firsthand.

"For me, I love seeing the parents light up because a lot of times parenthood can be really isolating. And so coming to a space like the library, you know, when kids are playing with other children. it also bridges this gap for a parent to meet another parent and have conversations that they might not have otherwise."

"That discovery piece and getting to see them learn these things and watching them play," added Little. "All of those things together, knowing that you're helping these kiddos grow and you're also supporting the family. So it's really magic."

Learn more about the Families First Learning Lab summer programs at