It all started with the intent of making the well-being of New Mexico’s children and their families at the heart everything they do. Decades later, the Family Development Program at The University of New Mexico is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Wemagination Resource Center—the fruition of their vision, that has successfully served the community by being one of the main sources of educational development tools for our children.
The College of Education’s Family Development Program—a statewide training program, founded in 1985, for teachers and families of young children—is the driving force behind the creation of the Wemagination Resource Center (the WE) in the late 90s.
Based on the Program’s Watch Me Play/Watch Me Learn book series, Wemagination learning workshops for parents and teachers promote play-based learning both inside homes and classrooms, as well as outdoors in the natural world.
“The WE resource center adds value to Family Development’s distinct approach for training, providing needed resources for teachers and families to actively engage young children as creative young learners,” says Lois Vermilya, director of the Family Development Program.
The trainings focus on developmentally appropriate learning through open-ended play, and supports that learning with clean, high-quality recyclable materials such as pieces of foam, wood, fabric, paper, corks and other loose parts obtained from individuals and a strong network of business and corporate donors.
The WE works as a low-cost, membership-based facility, where teachers and parents receive a punch card allowing them to take a bucket stuffed full of material for each punch. This helps not only keep materials from the landfill, but also alleviates some of the high costs educators and families spend each year on toys and supplies for the classroom.
“For 20 years, Wemagination has creatively supported educators and children to learn the power of how young children learn through play,” says Vermilya. “When adults are asked to remember playing as a child, and are given opportunities to play again with Wemagination materials hands-on, a light bulb goes off about all the things young children are learning and understanding when they get totally lost in the the joy of pure play."
To celebrate the success of the WE, the public is invited to the Wemagination Resource Center on May 3 from 5–8 p.m. for food, tours of the facility and opportunities to learn about its volunteer programs.
There will be live music and giveaways. The event will also feature the “Making Children’s Thinking Visible" gallery, a showcase of what excites little ones and how they learn as they explore and create with open-ended materials, whether they come from the Wemagination Center, are found in recycle bins, discovered at home or gathered from nature.
Visiting The WE
Almost 500 members including early childhood educators, families with young children, homeschoolers, home visitors, preschool directors, art teachers, college professors, babysitters, home daycare owners and more get various materials from the WE.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, teachers spend on average $500 a year out of their own pocket on school supplies. The UNM Family Development Program through the WE Resource Center supports both early childhood educators as well as families of young children by offering low-cost memberships which provides access to the materials.
The WE also provides free trainings for families and educators on how children learn through play and how adults can support and facilitate that learning.
It is estimated that the WE reaches at least 1,000 New Mexican children a year.