CENTRAL POINT — A room at the Path Church on 10th Street looked like a typical playroom filled with sunshine, smiling faces and piles of Legos, but it was actually a setting for early childhood development techniques in disguise.

Though it seemed like 2-year-old Maximus and 3-year-old Bodhi were simply building a Lego block fire station, the process secretly reinforced important socialization — think verbal skills and taking turns — while an almost classroom-like setting acclimated them for eventual kindergarten concepts such as creativity, shapes, colors and even cleanup duty.

The Kaleidoscope program, initiated by the Central Point  School District this winter to provide early childhood educational experiences for young learners, was launched in September.

Made available through the Southern Oregon Early Learning Hub, the program was developed by Child Care Resources (www.childcare.org) to help families prepare young children to be successful in school.

The drop-in play groups, provided at two locations every Tuesday morning and afternoon, offer a different theme each session, with a range of lessons and activities that help kids and their caregivers learn through play.

Tami McGonagle, a 20-year educator and second-grade teacher at Mae Richardson Elementary, approached the district about the program, aimed at children 5 and younger, last summer.

In her two decades of teaching, McGonagle said, she can attest to the stark difference between students who start school with some level of early learning versus those leaving home for virtually the first time.

On Tuesday, a friendly building session between 2- and 3-year-old boys, McGonagle said, provided the youngsters with a chance to use verbal skills and manners, and be exposed to concepts that will segue into concepts such as math, shapes and colors.

Maximus, who has attended the program a handful of times, smiled as he stood inside a mountain of Legos, while Bodhi, a first-time visitor to Kaleidoscope, quietly eyed his surroundings as he rolled a ball across the floor. Bodhi’s mom, Jezebelle Case, said she was excited for her son to participate in the program.

“It’s a good chance for him to see what a classroom is like with a teacher and some structure, but at the same time it’s not like we’re saying, yet, ‘OK, I’m just going to drop you off and walk away,’ ” said Case. “This is a really good opportunity to see a wide range of kids all having fun together. He’s our first, so everything is new to us. It’s nice to have the community offer something like this to help young families.”

Rick Auborn, dad to Maximus, noted that with four or five sessions under his belt, Max was completely acclimated to coming to “his school.”

“He loves it, so I just stay back and let him go,” said the dad.

McGonagle said the program, available at sites in Central Point and Gold Hill twice a week, would serve as a foundation for what she hoped would eventually be multiple Kaleidoscope sites. In addition, she’s eyeing plans to implement a program dubbed “Jumpstart” to help train parents to prepare preschool-age children for kindergarten.

"I taught kindergarten for a long time and just really felt like we were missing an opportunity for helping our youngest learners get off on the right foot,” McGonagle said. “I felt like, if we could offer something to better prepare them for early learning, and offer family and parents a chance to provide their kids with the tools to be good early learners, what a difference it would make for everyone.”

School Superintendent Samantha Steele said the Kaleidoscope program was an exciting addition for district families.

“We want to make sure that we’re a part of the entire community, and that means doing everything we can possibly do to have our kids be successful in school and, in some cases, being able to provide an opportunity for preschool students and parents to learn more about child development,” Steele said.

“This program is a great way to teach about developmental play and to help us implement some of the skills our schools will be looking for when these students get to kindergarten. We’re here to serve kids, and we’re here to serve our community, and we want to make sure we’re meeting the needs of all our kids.”

— Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.