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Free early childhood education program comes to Maine

Waterford.org is an early education nonprofit that focuses on setting the foundation for early math, science, and literacy for four-year-olds.

MAINE, Maine — There's a new educational opportunity for qualifying four-year-olds in Maine. It prepares kids for kindergarten by establishing a foundation in early literature, science, and math.

The free  Waterford.org program provides computer and internet access for kids to complete the program.

The program began in early January and is for Maine children entering kindergarten in the 2022-2023 school year.

Bangor Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kathy Harris-Smedberg said this program could also be supplemental to kindergarten classes.

"We don't really encourage a lot of screen time for children at this age, but we do know that students access that, so if they are [looking for] something fun and getting something tangible from it, then that would be a benefit," Harris-Smedberg said.

The program includes coaches that provide any guidance and help throughout its duration. The family can keep the computer at the end of the program.

The online program requires just 15 minutes a day, five days a week. 

Five-year-old Simra Bulama lives in Bangor and has been using the program for almost a month. Her mother, Halima Ladan, said the program was just right for her daughter.

"The enrollment is in September, so we have to wait all the way until September to get her enrolled into school, and the available pre-k school close to us [said] they don't have any opening at the moment," Ladan said.

"What we want to do is find the gaps in individual states and fill them with our program," Kim Fischer, national spokeswoman for Waterford.org, said.

According to World Population Review, childcare can cost families in Maine almost $10,000 a year.

Fischer said the nonprofit has money to help 200 qualifying kids in Maine to get a head start on their early education.

"We have the philanthropic dollars to come to Maine. Find 200 children in the state of Maine who are not using another form of early education and provide our program to see how it works for those kids. Really, the idea is we want to find those children who don't have an early education solution, to make sure they walk into kindergarten ... ready," Fisher said.

Fisher says Waterford.org is specifically looking for children who don't have access to another pre-k program and lower-income families.

"You see a tremendous improvement. When we started, she couldn't really identify some letters. But now she can identify letters, capital letters, [and] small letters," Halima said.

Harris-Smedberg said the program is attractive because it's giving four-year-olds an extra boost.

"Opportunities to develop skills so that they will be more successful in kindergarten," Harris-Smedberg said.

Interested parents can click here to register. Mainers have until Friday to register.

Waterford.org Upstart will host a Zoom informational session on Friday at 5 p.m. The meeting can be accessed here.

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