Youngsters can have fun with arts and crafts while enhancing their motor skills and hand-eye coordination to prepare for kindergarten.
While so many pandemic educators turned to computer platforms, one early childhood specialist began thinking outside the digital box and developed learning experiences that fit inside a plastic box.
Jamie Gans, who grew up in Michigan and taught preschool classes in New York for 11 years, returned home to Franklin for isolation and came up with activities she packaged together according to different themes.
Marketing each container as a Busy Box 4 Kids, Gans planned experiences so youngsters could have fun with arts and crafts while enhancing their motor skills and hand-eye coordination to prepare for kindergarten.
Gans has used social media and direct contacts to sell some 200 boxes that span the themes of rainbows, winter and spring. Each box is personalized with the child’s name prominent on the outside.
“Every box has 10-15 skill-based activities,” said Gans, who has worked closely with youngsters ages 2-5. “They’re learning while doing but not necessarily knowing what they’re learning. I know what they’ve learned because I planned it all that way.”
Each activity comes in its own plastic bag with adult directions on what is to be done and an explanation of what is to be accomplished. Glue, tweezers and other necessities also are included, and some activities can be enjoyed repeatedly.
One activity, for example, has youngsters adhering colored stickers to the appropriate colors on a rainbow.
“I love all the different projects,” said Karen Kelman of West Bloomfield, who looks after a 3-year-old grandson and heard about the boxes from a friend. “Everything is super colorful and purposeful. I have seen the progression as he repeats the activities.”
Kelman is also impressed with the way her grandson is learning to be neat by putting the activities back into the right plastic bags.
Lacey Foon of Bloomfield Hills, the mom of 2-year-old twins Phoebe and Eloise, was researching activities when she came upon the boxes.
“The girls love the arts and crafts,” said Foon, who realized that what was being learned through the boxed activities was being applied to other developmental growth. “They liked doing the activities together, and they learned off of each other.”
Morgan Kaufman of Birmingham has bought all of the boxes for 2-year-old Sophie. Mom and daughter became acquainted with Gans through a home-based preschool group of four that Gans was teaching during the pandemic.
“These boxes have been fun ways for me to interact and engage with my daughter,” Kaufman said. “I enjoy watching her accomplishments and the way she is learning to organize.”
Gans, 33, who graduated from Andover High School and attended services at Temple Beth El, spent summers at Camp Walden, first as a camper and later as a counselor, extending her interest in youngsters.
At the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Gans majored in child development and had field experiences in schools and day care centers. After graduation, she moved to New York, where she could be with college friends.
While maintaining work as a synagogue teacher, she earned a master’s degree that spanned early childhood learning, both for general studies and special education, from Bank Street College of Education.
“In early childhood, you find out if a child is struggling or has a developmental need,” said Gans, who will be remaining in Michigan as educational director at the new Lamplighters Preschool, opening this fall in Royal Oak with Chabad sponsorship.
“In early childhood, brains have the most plasticity, and that’s when you can see the most change. I’m a huge advocate for students with special needs, and I have worked with therapists in order to best support special needs students in my classrooms.”
Gans, whose resume includes positions at many New York preschools, including Shaaray Tefila Nursery School and the Acorn School, counts some of her most impressive experiences at the My Little School (Chabad of Tribeca) located in lower Manhattan.
“Most of the families were actually Reform or Conservative, and it was a warm and accepting community dedicated to families and children,” Gans said. “That is the community we are looking for in the Royal Oak preschool.”
More information on continuing and upcoming boxes are available on the Gans website, busybox4kids.com. The next box will have the theme of animals, and she intends to design boxes for specific Jewish holidays.