Riding, romping — and reading

Educational elements make fair a learning experience
Sep. 13, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

The fair may be mostly fun and games, but there's some learning that goes on, too.

Thursday morning, hundreds of young children and their families, teachers and daycare providers packed into the stage area at the Lee Regional Fair for story time, followed by a distribution of free books and a mad dash for the rides.

Multiple organizers noted it was one of the biggest turnouts they've had in years for the event focused on preschool and early elementary school students — and they said that's a good thing. In two sessions, they ran out of the 900 leaves they had brought to give to the children.

"The earlier you start reading to your child, the better," said Kristy Arey, community outreach coordinator for the Lee County Partnership for Children.

The Partnership for Children sent out Arey and other volunteers to help with the event, which was hosted by the Coalition for Families. Several people took turns reading to the assembled children or leading them in interactive songs, which Arey said was good for parents, too. They should already know the importance of reading to their young children, she said, but they may not know to do so in an energetic way that will get the kids more excited to read.

Carolyn Spivey, executive director of the Coalition for Families, put on a show for them. Wearing a flannel shirt and with her hair in pigtails, she used just about every inflection she could to tell the children about farm animals — frequently asking them questions or imitating animals to keep them engaged. Afterward, she said a big part of making kids good readers is making them want to read in the first place. And literacy, she said, is the key to everything else in life.

"It will help a child be successful in life and in school if they can read early and enjoy reading," she said.

Tammy Sanderford, who was helping chaperone a group of Deep River Elementary School kindergarteners, said she was glad her grandson, BradLee, got to actually participate on stage.

"He loves to read," Sanderford said. "... He has to have a story every night before bed, and my kids were the same way."

Thursday was the only day for reading at the fair, although people who missed out don't have long to wait for a similar opportunity. The Partnership for Families and Coalition for Children are joining forces again, on Oct. 3, for a reading day at a local farm. More information can be found on their websites and Facebook pages in the coming days.

But just because the reading day has come and gone doesn't mean there are no more educational opportunities at the fair. In addition to the various machinery and other hands-on activities, there's also Barnyard Review, a nationally touring show that talks about farm facts and safety while also incorporating kid-friendly comedy and even some illusions and magic tricks.

"The adults will come up after and say, 'Hey, that was totally cool. I thought it was going to be something only my kid would like, but I had fun,'" said Amanda Stiffler, who constitutes one-half of the show. "I think it's because of the magic and things like that we do."

Besides the tips and pointers, a ballerina pig does stand-up, and a cow does a pretty spot-on Elvis impersonation, Stiffler said, making the show both fun and practical. Fair-goers can watch it just to the right of the soccer field entrance.

Upcoming shows (all times p.m.) are today at 5:15, 6:30 and 8; Saturday at 2, 4:30 and 8; and Sunday at 1:30, 3 and 4. More information on the show is available at http://barnyardreview.wordpress.com.