Say "September" and what comes to mind? Back to school, of course! And while it is certainly a hot topic for parents and students from kindergarten through senior year in high school, it may not necessarily be the first thing that moms and dads with toddlers and pre-schoolers think of.

Yet that first introduction to a learning situation outside the home is a critical one in developing a youngster's socialization and life-readiness skills. But how does a parent know what kind of program will best fit their child's developmental needs?

Early Childhood programs offered at the St. Charles Park District use a three-tiered approach to help parents make informed choices: Adult & Child activities let parents and kids have fun together; Preschool Enrichment classes run slightly longer than regular programming and can provide preschoolers with the opportunity to share a mealtime with their friends; Stepping Out on My Own programs help little ones gain confidence and independence in a preschool-like setting.

Brightly colored icons denote each level of programming, giving parents an easy, at-a-glance way of making their class selections when scanning the park district's seasonal program guide. The image of two figures holding hands is the logo for all Adult & Child activities, while a bright red apple denotes the Preschool Enrichment programs. Blue footprints lead parents to Stepping Out on My Own classes.

"If a parent looks for the apple and feet icons in the catalog, they'll be able to choose classes that let a child stay on a little bit longer and register for a separate class that would include lunch," said Lynne Yuill, Recreation Supervisor. "Our 'Let's Do Lunch' program allows children to bring a meal from home or parents could sign up for one of our wildly popular seasonal classes where our instructor, Miss Joelle, makes a theme-based treat for the kids."

These programs are indeed wildly popular, and Miss Joelle is one of the reasons why, according to Yuill.

"She has a wonderful reputation here at the park district," said Yuill. "She's most likely the first person a parent will see and is the face of the district for parents and children who are just getting started with outside-the-home activities. It really helps them to have the warm, friendly and nurturing Miss Joelle be their first experience."

With more than 30 years parks-and-recreation experience, Joelle Delgado-Solomon has been with the park district for 15 years. Each class is inspired by her personal philosophy for early education.

"Creativity leads to learning and learning leads to creativity," said Delgado-Solomon. "Realistically, these classes are the first classes where children start to learn how to socialize, follow directions and prepare them for preschool and beyond. I feel my responsibility is to get them comfortable with a school setting by making it fun and enjoyable so that their transition to future grade levels is easier."

Just one look at the array of fall programs confirms Miss Joelle's passion for creativity. Children ages 18 months to 2 ? years will get into "Little Messy Hands." This Adult & Child activity lets parents spend time with their child making a mess that they won't have to clean up! A delicious mess can be in store at the "Ooey Gooey Gross and Chewy" preschool enrichment program, where kids ages 3 to 5 can indulge in some Halloween fun. And for those children ages 2 ? to 3 ? who are ready to party on their own, the "My Little Pony Party" is a new event where kids can gallop into Ponyville and spend an amazing morning with pony-themed games, crafts and even a pony snack.

"The Early Childhood classes offer a variety of educational, life and socialization skills that help demystify the whole school/activity relationship," said Yuill. "And I'm always open to suggestions from parents as to the kinds of classes they'd like us to offer. Miss Joelle is creative and flexible, so we'd welcome ideas from moms and dads."

For more information about the fall schedule of Early Childhood programs, contact Lynne Yuill at 630-513-4326.