The Living Arts and Science Center-


Today we are sitting down with Amanda Wheeler and Lori Halligan from The Living Arts and Science Center to learn more about The Living Arts and Science Center and their role with First 5 Lex.


What is your organization/what is your role there?

We are with The Living Arts and Science Center in Lexington, Kentucky. We have been in existence for 53 years. We like to say we were STEAM before STEAM was a thing. We focus on art and science and the interrelationship between the disciplines. We believe thoroughly in lifelong learning and we have camps, classes and opportunities for everyone from babies up to adults and senior citizens.


Lori has been working with The Living Arts and Science Center for two years as the executive director. Amanda has been working with The Living Arts and Science Center for two months as the planetarium coordinator and STEM discovery educator.


Can you tell us about your organization’s community outreach? What role has your organization played in the community?

We are located on the east end of Lexington, Kentucky which is an area with a higher poverty level than the Kentucky average. The area also has a higher level of racial, ethnic and economic diversity than other areas of the city of Lexington and the state of Kentucky. We feel it is really important to have community outreach to make sure underserved children have the same educational opportunities as other citizens of the community. We work with title one schools to provide after-school programming through what we call art and science explorers.


On average, during a normal year without Covid-19, we have 15,000-18,000 students come to see us on field trips. Students come from all over the eastern part of Kentucky to have the opportunity to see a planetarium show and experience hands-on learning through science and art activities. We strive to be a part of the local community here on the east end of Lexington, as well as to be a resource for the surrounding area.


How long has your organization been part of the First 5 community team?

Our relationship with First 5 Lex started many years ago before either of us were working with The Living Arts and Science Center. We have been recognized as a long-term partner. We have participated in the Countdown to Kindergarten program and offer many programs for preschool-aged children. It isn’t necessarily preschool education. It’s learning by doing and learning by having fun. We like to say it’s almost like learning by accident.


Why was partnering with First 5 Lex a logical fit for your organization?

We believe in lifelong learning and that starts when you’re young. We also believe in school readiness because it is an indicator of future success. We want to work with those families because families are kid’s first teachers. Families are their teachers before they go to school. It makes sense for us to work with First 5 Lex because we have the same goals of school readiness and lifelong learning.


Why do you think the First 5 message- to read, talk and play with little ones each day- is so important?

Many studies are showing that talking to your child, even just narrating your day, helps build their vocabulary. This is going to help them in the future when they start to read and go to school. Being exposed to more language and vocabulary will help students do better in school. Many studies show that it is important. For the same reasons, other studies show that you should read to your child even before they’re born.


We usually say sing, talk, read, write, play. These are simple things you can do with your child every day.


In your opinion, what positive change has First 5 Lex made in the community?

They have brought a lot of awareness to school readiness and have made it accessible. It can be daunting to figure out how to get your child ready for school and to know where to start. First 5 Lex makes it accessible and helps parents know it’s doable.


How do you hope to continue to partner with First 5 in the future?

We have a pre-k art day that we offer and we are going to start offering a pre-k STEM day in the fall. We are looking for more opportunities to partner with First 5 Lex, maybe even participating in another Countdown to Kindergarten. I (Amanda) am on the Fayette County Community Early Childhood Council as well. We have the same goals and we are looking to partner with First 5 Lex more in the future.


Just for fun:

What is your favorite children’s book to READ?

Lori: I really like Sandra Boynton. I like the silly characters, rhyming and goofiness. I love seeing chunky little fingers trying to turn the pages of the board books and point at characters. Many can’t even speak yet but they hear their parents making the animal sounds. I love to see that interaction.


Amanda: I would have to go with the author Karen Katz. She writes a lot of lift-a-flap and board books. She writes them about seasons and they are really fun to read.


If you have an afternoon with nothing scheduled, how would you PLAY?

Lori: I would go outside to breathe fresh air, move my body and observe nature. I would observe everything from a tiny ant on the sidewalk to the trees and the sounds I hear. I would definitely play outside.


Amanda: I would go to the park and go birding. I would go look for birds and listen to their songs while observing their behaviors.


If you could TALK with one person, from the past or present, who would it be, and what would you ask them?

Amanda: I would like to talk with Jane Goodall. I don’t know what I would ask her specifically, but I would ask her to tell me stories.


Thank you so much, Amanda and Lori with The Living Arts and Science Center for all you do with First 5 Lex! Be on the lookout for future events through The Living Arts and Science Center!

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