Kids Gear Up for Kindergarten at County Library

What could be more fun? You get to paint, sing, play games, make new friends, and best of all, there’s snacks! For young children at the Lemon Grove and Alpine County Libraries, this is all a part of a new program called Kindergarten Gear-Up.

A group of them “graduated” from the program this week. While they may have taken it all for fun and games, their parents understand this is a good step toward success in kindergarten.

Dela Pena gives a Kindergarten Gear-up student a high five after he receives his certificate of completion.

“It was a shock to us how rigorous kindergarten was,” said County Library Director Migell Acosta of his own family’s experience. “We had to hold back our child for a year until he was ready.”

And that was 19 years ago!

“Kindergarten today is not the kindergarten we knew as kids,” said Acosta.

Add to that, statistics that say almost 40 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds in San Diego County are not enrolled in preschool. So when the California State Library offered a one-year-long grant, the County Library developed the Kindergarten Gear-Up program as a logical extension of what it’s already doing to help children prepare for school. Among them, Discovery Zones, which are areas for families to explore early learning skills together, and 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten.

“Oh, my gosh, it sounds amazing,” said Youth Services Librarian Jodi dela Pena, recalling her reaction when she learned of the opportunity. “Let’s do it!”

Dela Pena and other library staff members lead the ten-class course at the Lemon Grove and Alpine County Libraries. While she’s worked closely with kindergarten teachers over the years on ways the library can prepare kids for school, this program’s classes are structured in a strategic building block way. One activity teaches stepping stones for the next activity. The curriculum was developed with teachers to ensure that both academic and social skills needed for kindergarten were being addressed.

The free program is geared toward children between the ages of 4 and 5. But their younger siblings can come along and enjoy the fun, too.

reading-to-kids“Story Time at the Library is a popular way for parents to introduce books and letters and other school readiness skills to children, but Kindergarten Gear-Up was developed to expand this learning academically and socially,” said Program Services Librarian Anna Hartman. “The kids also learn to be away from their parents for a short time and gain some independence.”

Hartman leads the overall program. She says the hour-long sessions are broken up into thirds. The first 20 minutes, caregivers work with the children together in an “I do, we do, you do” type learning situation.

The grown-ups then break away for sessions from community partners on topics such as how to pack a healthy lunch or how to keep children safe. Everyone comes together again for the last 20 minutes for a closing activity.

“The program gives kids a better idea how to be away from parents, how to get used to being with a teacher and friends, basically what to do and what not to do,” said Beatrice Wallace.

The former preschool teacher babysits two of the participants, 4-year-old Aiden and 2-and-a-half-year-old Jax.

“Aiden now wants to do more on his own,” said Wallace.

The County Library plans to expand the new Kindergarten Gear-Up courses to two more branches in the spring. For more information about the County Library, visit

Tracy DeFore is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact