Lundeen Park offers kids a chance to learn early

On an 85-degree day, it’s Lake Stevens that lures families to Lundeen Park. A new Born Learning Trail is no match for a sandy beach and a cooling dip.

The park’s shoreline was packed Wednesday. Only a few mothers sat on the grass near the playground watching their children run and climb.

No one was reading the suggestions for early learning activities posted on new signs near the park’s wooden fence and around the play structures.

Simple commands — “talk, listen, sing” and “jump, clap, skip, move” — are combined on the signs with ideas ranging from “Make up silly stories or songs” to “Look at the shapes on the ground.”

“Looking at the world in a new way helps children get ready for reading and math,” one sign says.

Heather Morgan and Michelle Davis, who’d brought their little boys to the park for a play date, hadn’t noticed the Born Learning signs, unveiled earlier this month. When I pointed them out, they were interested.

“Once they hit kindergarten, they need to know stuff,” said Morgan, of Monroe, whose son Ricky is 2.

Ricky, she said, already knows the alphabet. She helps him learn shapes and colors. “My little boy enjoys it,” Morgan said.

Davis’ 2-year-old son Joseph will soon go to preschool with Ricky at Cornerstone Academy in Monroe. “We do lots of reading,” said Davis, who lives in Snohomish.

These young mothers understand what educators know. Learning doesn’t begin when a child walks into a classroom and sits down in a little chair for the first time. Babies learn from day one.

“We’re really understanding that so much learning should and really needs to take place before kids go to kindergarten,” said Katrina Ondracek, director of public policy and community initiatives for United Way of Snohomish County. “It was old thinking that they’ll figure it out when they get to kindergarten,” she said Thursday.

In a survey of Washington’s kindergarten teachers, conducted in 2004, teachers reported that only 44 percent of children coming to kindergarten were adequately prepared. They said that in classes with high rates of poverty, levels of student preparedness were lower.

The Kindergarten Preparedness survey is available on the state Department of Early Learning Web site ( In it, teachers commented that academic expectations have increased in kindergarten, while readiness has declined.

“Research tells us that what happens in a child’s early years is critically important for success in life and school,” Ondracek said.

Lundeen Park’s Born Learning Trail project was a community effort involving United Way of Snohomish County, the Rotary Club of Lake Stevens/Granite Falls, the city of Lake Stevens, the Lake Stevens Learning Foundation and other organizations.

A Tales and Trails party Aug. 8 at the park celebrated the trail and the first anniversary of the community’s participation in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which provides a free book each month to children up to age 5.

Ondracek said the trail signs cost about $1,800, and were part of a larger $5,000 project to make the playground more accessible. A Rotary grant helped pay for the work.

When I first saw the signs, I thought they stated the obvious: Talk with your children. Play with them. Tell them the names of things. Ask them questions. Get them thinking.

If those ideas aren’t obvious to some parents, by all means put up signs — big signs.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460,

Fun trails foster early learning

Several parks in Snohomish County have signs as part of a Born Learning Trail program to help young children with school readiness. Signs are up at Lundeen Park in Lake Stevens, Willis D. Tucker Community Park near Mill Creek, and Jennings Memorial Park in Marysville.

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