Banding together for early education

Summer Pods

Summertime is meant to be spent outside in the sun enjoying everything Philadelphia has to offer, and sometimes that can be quite educational.

The Barnes Foundation recently announced Early Learner Summer Pods, a citywide effort in partnership with seven other cultural organizations. According to a release, the initiative offers summer activities for children ages 5 and under living in underserved communities where the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted systems of education and support.

The six-week program began earlier this month and will continue through Aug. 13. Made possible with support from the William Penn Foundation, the Pods will engage more than 1,000 early learners and their caregivers through play, art, science, nature, and stories.

This educational opportunity was brought to the cultural institution and made possible with the help of a few other local organizations including the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the Barnes, the Clay Studio, Fairmount Water Works, Fleisher Art Memorial, Please Touch Museum, Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse, and WHYY.

The pods are able to engage young learners and their caregivers through outdoor activities, art-making, environmental education workshops, storytime sessions, and other experiences. Each organization involved connect Philadelphia’s youngest learners to art, nature, science, and stories. Collectively, this initiative will serve residents in South, West, and North Central Philadelphia neighborhoods, activating Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Centers, Philly Playstreets, public parks, community and daycare centers, and cultural agency sites. Free learning kits will also be distributed to participating children, the release states.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply disrupted access to high-quality early development and learning opportunities for children, posing deep setbacks that jeopardize the potential of long- term achievement for many—particularly for low-income families who have been hardest hit by the myriad impacts of the pandemic,” says Barbara Wong, Director of Community Engagement at the Barnes Foundation in a statement. “The summer offers a critical opportunity to narrow the developmental gaps of the past year, and our goal with the Early Learner Summer Pods is to offer a variety of free programming across the city for six weeks to support early learners’ social, emotional, language, and literacy development.

“Together with our network of partners, we are thrilled to deliver activities that are fun, experiential, and utilize the unique strengths and assets of each cultural partner to support the people in our communities who need it the most.”

The participating organizations in this network are grantees of the William Penn Foundation’s Informal Learning Initiative, which is a community-based program that partners cultural institutions and community organizations to connect critical informal learning opportunities with children and families in low-income neighborhoods. There’s also the addition of the Please Touch Museum in this as well.

“We’re glad to see many of our city’s arts, culture, and science institutions play such an important role in early learning this summer,” says Elliot Weinbaum, Director of the Great Learning Program at the William Penn Foundation in a statement. “These free summer programs will take place in community locations, extending museum walls, creating new learning experiences for children and families, and building bridges between our residents and institutions. This work continues efforts the Foundation has supported for several years, as we seek to nurture connections among cultural institutions and community organizations across our city.”

Some examples of the program’s activities include outdoor performative storytelling and art making with The Barnes; live workshops, literacy games, and read-alouds with The Clay Studio; expeditions to discover the wonder of water and the environment with Fairmount Water Works; mobile art studio with outdoor art workshops with the Fleisher Art Memorial and more.

For more information on the Earl Learning Summer Pods, visit

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