WCC Early Children Education Department
One of the liveliest places at MerleFest is the Little Pickers area. On a walk-through you will see kids burning off some of that extra energy on the climbing wall, being creative by making craft items, and learning about traditional music at a stage programmed just for them. The Early Childhood Education Department at Wilkes Community College is one of the volunteer groups that makes all of this possible. They work in the Activity Tent where all of those cute items we see kids wearing and carrying during MerleFest are made.
The students and teachers begin their work long before the festival starts. Team leader and instructor, Ellen Rhyne, helps students plan activities, order supplies, and gather and prepare materials. Last year they washed and removed labels from 2,000 clear drink bottles. They also colored 2,000 pounds of sand. The Early Childhood Education students cooperate with Communities in Schools and the Early College High School students to make sure everything is ready when the first Little Picker arrives at the festival.
"We use the festival as a learning experience," comments Ellen. "Students who volunteer learn to work in a group to coordinate a large-scale activity, working together to accomplish an enormous task. Teamwork and leadership are two by-products of this experience. Working with a wide range of age groups is an opportunity for students to see firsthand the development of children." She also says that many of the Early Childhood Education students have never attended MerleFest, so it is an opportunity for them to broaden their personal experiences through the music and culture the festival offers.
The student group uses the MerleFest funds they receive for their work in a variety of ways to enhance their educational experiences. They have bought books and supplies for the classroom and have paid for workshop expenses.
Ms. Rhyne says, "Students are always amazed at the organization and smooth flow of the festival. It gives them pride in their school and community for being able to accomplish such an impressive event."
The importance of the Little Picker area to both parents and children is well summed up in a note the Early Childhood Education students received after a recent festival:
Hats off to your students and staff who provided all the wonderful activities for the little MerleFest fans. Our family has been coming for 13 years and this year brought our 2 ½ year-old granddaughter. What a difference your tent made for her (and everyone else in our group).
On multiple visits to your tent we met so many nice, friendly and knowledgeable students. Thanks to all of you for the time, energy, and hard work you put forth. We look forward to playing with you next year.
MerleFest also thanks the Early Childhood Education Department of Wilkes Community College for all their hard work and in helping to inspire Little Pickers to someday become Big Pickers.