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Written by Kelly Sheehy, Content Specialist, Main Library

It's a Wednesday afternoon at the Carson School in West Price Hill. The room is filled with energy and fun as kids between the ages of three and five years old gather around Sarah Stegman, a University of Cincinnati student majoring in speech pathology. Over the course of the next hour, the kids will learn all about seeds, gardening, and springtime flowers.

After a fun hello song and introductions that include “What’s your favorite color?”, it’s time for a story about planting. “Who can come up and point to the root growing from the seed?” the children are asked. Hands shoot up. 

Sarah and her colleague go on to lead the kids in games of Ring Around the Rosie, planting their own bean seeds in egg cartons, and coloring pictures of flower and vegetable gardens.



While the kids just see it as fun, all of these activities are specifically designed to promote language and literacy. While the children plant, color, and play, their parents are off with two other UC speech pathology students learning about kindergarten readiness, behavior, speech, language, and early childhood development. 

This is the “Let’s Talk” program, part of the SPARK initiative (Supporting Partnership to Assure Ready Kids). Adopted by Cincinnati from Canton, Ohio, in 2009, SPARK is a collaboration between Santa Maria Community Services, Children’s Home of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Public Schools, the University of Cincinnati, and the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Every spring for the past decade, SPARK offers “Let’s Talk”—a six-week program for early childhood families in Price Hill, Madisonville, and Norwood communities. Each week, parents and their kids receive free books and materials, along with immersive lessons and play to give kids a head start when they begin school. 



During the final session, staff from the Price Hill and Grosebeck library branches visit to share important resources and materials that the Library has to offer. They help families who need library cards, talk about our Summer Adventure program and the summer meals program, and lead storytime with the kids and their families. Before they leave, each child is provided with a backpack filled with books and art supplies.

“Many of the families served by SPARK don’t know about all of the free resources and services the Library offers,” said Keith Armour, Education & Support Manager at the Main Library. “As a former elementary teacher, I love interacting with the kids by reading a book, playing a game or learning a brand-new skill.  Sharing with the parent or caregiver all that the Library offers at zero cost is very rewarding.”

The UC students who work with the children throughout the program get so much out of it as well. They get the opportunity to do real work in their field and work with a diverse population. For the first time, they lead parent groups as well as children.



“I think this program has been so successful because the children truly love the experience,” says Program Manager Jamie Mutter of Santa Maria Community Services. “For many of the kids, this is their first time being in a school setting. It often leads to parents enrolling their children into preschool. It helps them build an early and positive relationship, not only with their child but also with the other parents and the school. Having that sense of relationship and community with the school early on is so important for kids’ later success in school and in life.” 

That’s the whole goal of “Let’s Talk”: getting children comfortable with entering school and connecting their parents with information so they can be their child’s greatest learning advocate. 

For more information about the SPARK program, visit SparkOhio.org and check in with Santa Maria Community Services for information about how to get involved in next year’s “Let’s Talk” program.