Madison Metropolitan School District’s Play and Learn is a fun and engaging program that is offered throughout the city that is free of charge for children from ages birth to 3+ who reside in the MMSD and their caregivers. Hundreds gathered on May 19 as the organization hosted its second annual family event titled “Jumping into Literacy” to focus on building literacy skills through music, dance/movement, language, art diversity and inclusivity.

“Early literacy is so important for future success of young people. And, as you can see at this event, we have such a diverse community and population,” Barbara Klawikowski, coordinator for Madison Metropolitan School District’s Department of Early Learning, tells Madison365. “We’re a public school district so everything starts with the foundation of reading for children and families. We want as much opportunity for early literacy learning for children because it starts early and in our district — in the Madison Public School District — we are trying so hard to meet benchmarks and have children reading by third grade. It’s a key piece. Research says if kids aren’t reading by third grade, they’re going to struggle.”

The Play and Learn program is a part of the Department of Early Learning for the Madison School District. The mission of the program is to provide a quality environment where parents and caregivers can develop and strengthen skills to enhance their child’s learning and growth in literacy, math, and social skills.

“So birth-to-five programming, literacy, social-emotional development is huge in what we focus on. And so that’s what today is all about,” Klawikowski says. “We have Play and Learns all across the city. We’re in numerous community centers and we’re in a couple of libraries. The Madison Public Library system is huge and they’ve helped us so much. Aldo Leopold Nature Center is another partner. They come to our sessions across the city and provide programming around environmental learning for kids and families. MSCR is part of the school district and then also the Madison Reading project, who donate lots of books, and we partner with them.”

The Play and Learn sessions provide a learning environment for families who may not have access to similar opportunities and who are not currently participating in similar programs. Children learn early math, literacy, and social skills through play and caregivers learn about child development, the importance of play, and parenting skills.

Maria Diaz Folklore Ballet performs at “Jumping into Literacy”
(Photo by A. David Dahmer)

The “Jumping into Literacy” event was held at the MMSD building at 333 Holtzman Road which hosts many of the District’s off-campus special education programming. It was a chance for students from all walks of life to come together.

“This is our second year doing this event. Most of the funding actually comes from American Family Insurance,” Klawikowski says. “We have other sponsors who are all amazing including Madison Public Library, the Madison Children’s Museum, Aldo Leopold Nature Center, MSCR and Madison Reading Project.”

At “Jumping into Literacy,” it was a big party atmosphere inside with dancing, music, food and beverages. Kids enjoyed performances by Maria Diaz Folklore Ballet and Dancing with Ting Ting. There were also outdoor activities in the back parking lot of the building where children and families could go to stations hosted by MSCR Fit2Go, Madison Public Library, Madison Reading Project’s Big Red Reading Bus, and Madison Children’s Museum. There were also stations with face painting and Chinese calligraphy.

“We have a lot of great performers today, dancers, face painters. We have the Madison School District-affiliated MSCR program does a Fit2Go program,” says Klawikowski. “We have a lot of great things going on today with our vendors and our partners that provide a fun day for families.”

Jesus López attends Play and Learn’s Jumping into Literacy event with his twin daughters. (Photo by A. David Dahmer)



Play & Learn’s Rissel Sanderson (left) and DeBorah Moore
(Photo by A. David Dahmer)

“Today is also about families coming together for the sake of children and the Play and Learn program is that,” she adds. “It’s a program meant to foster learning for parents about child development. So that’s what today is about, too.”

Klawikowski says she expected roughly 200 children and 200 adults to come through for the event during the day.

“Today is not only an opportunity to have fun, but also to learn and to find out about available resources we have in our community,” Klawikowski says. “The kids are collecting little mementos today from all of the partners… so they will get to take those home. The Play and Learn staff also put together a take-home bag where we put information about literacy and provided books and toys and other materials that families who attend our sessions throughout the city can take home.

“This is just the second event and I don’t think this is going anywhere.  We want to continue to host them every year,” she adds. “I think as long as the funding is there, we would make that work.”


For those interested in registering their children for Play and Learn sessions that take place in community centers and libraries across the city, they can get more information from Play and Learn staff members. For English speakers, call (608) 204-6784. For Spanish speakers, call (608) 204-7918. For Hmong speakers, call (608) 212-4683.