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Annual Spring Festival to be held this weekend

By Staff | Mar 23, 2016


A fun filled day will be had for the youngsters of the island during the annual Spring Festival this weekend.

Children’s Education Center of the Islands Director Cindy DeCosta said the festival began 22 years ago to raise funds, as well as say thank you to the community for all the support they provide throughout the year.

“It’s hard work behind the scenes, but the day of, it’s a lot of fun. The kids are there, the alumni come back and the big kids who are too cool to have fun end up having a lot of fun,” she said.

The annual Spring Festival will kick off with a free Easter egg hunt promptly at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 26, at the Sanibel City Park, next to the playground on Periwinkle Way. The children will be separated by ages for the hunt, including an area for 9 year olds and older.

After the hunt concludes, armbands will be available for $10 for a child, adults are free. The festival will be held in a contained area where there is one entrance and exit to ensure the kids are safe.

“They get to come into the festival. We have pony rides, bounce house, giant slide, tons of crafts and little games they can play,” DeCosta said.

The festival will also have concessions selling snow cones, cotton candy, hot dogs and drinks.

The festival, DeCosta said really brings out the families and community that everyone knows, resulting in everyone watching out for one another’s children as they play.

“We have a lot of grandparents that bring their grandkids here on spring break, so that’s really nice to see people we don’t know come out and support us,” DeCosta said.

The festival will also include silent auction items. Approximately 70 baskets will be available to bid on, including such items as fishing trips, overnight trips and one of their highest bid items a basket full of stuffed Easter eggs. This year a girl and boy basket will be made of the pre-stuffed Easter eggs.

“The silent auction is open the entire event,” she said. “If they want their basket right then and there they will have to stay until about 11:15. After we clean up we bring the baskets back here (the Children’s Education Center) and I sit here for a few hours. Or they can wait until Monday.”

A face painter will also be at the festival. The Easter bunny will arrive at 10 a.m. providing parents with the opportunity to take pictures.

The festival remains open until 11 a.m.

All of the proceeds will go towards the Children’s Education Center of the Islands scholarship fund.

“We have quite a few kids on scholarship and we try to offer it as much as possible,” she said. “There should never be a child that cannot attend because of finance reasons. And that is our goal. If you don’t learn certain skills in preschool, the chances of learning them in kindergarten, or first grade dramatically decreases. If you don’t learn social skills in preschool you really are missing out.”

Confidential paperwork is filled out for those in need of scholarship monies. A committee looks over the paperwork, which has any identifying information blacked out.

“Our teachers don’t even know who is on scholarship and I’m trying to keep it that way,” DeCosta said. “It’s no ones business besides myself, the bookkeeper and the family. The goal is to have the child here, so they can learn.”

The tuition the center receives pays for utilities and payroll of the staff, but anything above and beyond goes towards scholarships and new toys.

“We are grateful for any help that we get,” DeCosta said of the community.

The Children’s Education Center has been at their Casa Ybel Road location for 30 years. They were previously located at Bailey’s Tract for 10 years where they rented the old Bailey’s General Store for $1 a year before it was donated to the Historical Society. The cottages now used on the property were donated by Casa Ybel Resort.

The upstairs portion of the center was added on after they first arrived on the property because of its growth.

“It’s always a challenge juggling a small set class size and tuition that you don’t want to raise. Another reason we hold fundraisers, so we don’t have to raise tuition,” DeCosta said.

The center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for youngsters 18 months to 5 years old. There are also half day and part-time options available. The center is open to everyone, island residents, or nonresidents.

The center is in need of volunteers, as well as a handy man that can help out around the grounds.

After being a teacher at the center for a few years, DeCosta began the thought process of wanting to make the Children’s Education Center even better. So when the former director retired, she put her name in the hat.

“It’s been a huge challenge. Teaching was one challenge, but I was ready for a new challenge,” she said.

The curriculum was changed to a more child nature based learning curriculum. DeCosta said they have lesson plans that are general themes, with such topics as growing to give the teacher freedom, which is incorporated into their lessons plans that are turned into DeCosta every week.

“They have a lot of freedom in their classrooms depending on how their children best learn,” she said. “If you find a frog outside and you want to change your lesson based around the frog, go to it. The kids will learn an entire curriculum around that frog. We want the kids to be there touching it, watching it.”

The children also have time on the playground throughout the day.

“Playing is learning social skills, learning about nature, balance and coordination. It’s not just play,” DeCosta said. “That is crucial. If you are just sitting in the car with them in their car seat just running from one activity to the next, they are not learning how to be creative, inventive. They are missing an entire piece of growing up and development.”

Art projects, either teacher led, or free art, are done on a daily basis. She said it’s about the process of letting the children be creative, instead of the product.

“If you want to draw a bike, draw your idea of the bike, don’t draw mine. It’s how they see it and how they want to represent it,” DeCosta said.

Music directors also stop by the center once a week to share songs with the kids. She said they sing the songs in the classrooms throughout the week.

“We hide the learning in the fun and that’s the way it should be done,” DeCosta said.

For more information, call the center at (239) 472-4538.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.