Dorene Jow works with her granddaughter, Emaya Wolczynski, on a specially designed interactive placemat that includes literacy-building activities while eating lunch at Papa Urb's Grill.
Lunch and learn: Early literacy project brings reading to downtown Stockton restaurants
Downtown Stockton diners can now order their meals with a side of literacy. A new placemat project, launched this week by University of the Pacific in collaboration with the Downtown Stockton Alliance and First 5 San Joaquin, aims to transform mealtime into an opportunity to build early reading skills.
Six downtown restaurants are offering specially designed placemats - along with packs of crayons - to children and their families. Each placemat includes literacy-boosting activities and conversation prompts aimed at encouraging parents and caregivers to support literacy development by talking, singing, reading, drawing and playing with their young children.
The project, made possible with support from The James Irvine Foundation, is part of Pacific's Beyond Our Gates Reading by Third initiative, which seeks to empower parents and caregivers to turn everyday routines into opportunities to strengthen language and vocabulary.
"Any place, whether it's a restaurant, a grocery store or the laundromat, can be a place where children learn, enrich their vocabularies and explore their world," said Jennifer Torres Siders, community relations director for University of the Pacific.
The early literacy placemats invite kids and parents to play, talk and even draw together while they await their meals. "Grab a menu and try to find as many letters of the alphabet as you can," one prompt suggests. "Look around!" says another. "Shapes are hiding all around the room. Do you see any circles? Can you spot some squares?"
"Back-and-forth interactions between parents and children help nurture a love of learning," said Lani Schiff-Ross, executive director of First 5 San Joaquin, a partner in Pacific's Beyond Our Gates Community Council. Using funds generated through California's tobacco tax, First 5 allocates roughly $10 million each year to support programs that improve the lives of pregnant women and children ages 0 to 5. "The more children are read to and talked to in the early years, the more they get to practice the basic language and literacy skills they need to be prepared for kindergarten."
Families who complete all the menu's activities can bring it back to a participating restaurant for a small discount on their next purchase.
"Sometimes our busy lifestyles and our many electronic devices pull us away from one another," said Cindi Fargo, CEO of the Downtown Stockton Alliance. "But meals can be a time for families to reconnect - to talk and enjoy each other's company. Downtown businesses are strong supporters of education, and we're proud to join this campaign to promote family fun and learning."
Participating restaurants are Thai Thai (222 N. El Dorado St.), Red Orchids (126 E. Market St.), Casa Flores (201 E. Weber Ave.), Alfalfa's Pizza & Deli (335 E. Weber Ave.), Papa Urb's Grill (331 E. Weber Ave.) and Robek's Juice/Subway (222 N. El Dorado St.).
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