It’s 9:30 am on a late-June morning. At Layla’s House, all is quiet, save for the murmur of Parent Educators preparing for the day’s activities.

Suddenly, like clockwork, the little bungalow-like building on the corner of Eskimo and 15th in Sulphur Springs bursts into a flurry of noise and activity. Parents and young children file in through the double doors, where they are greeted by Ms. Mary, the ever-present friendly face of Layla’s House. She directs half the families to the playground out front for some fresh air and free play. The rest gather in the main playroom, which soon erupts into singing and laughter. All the while, Parent Educators dart among the organized chaos, greeting parents and cooing at babies. Another day of Explorers Club has begun.

In short, Explorers Club combines Champions for Children’s trademark evidence-based family education practices with the Tampa Bay area’s best cultural and educational offerings to help families in one of Tampa’s poorest communities provide truly meaningful summer learning opportunities for their young children.  Since its original pilot program in 2015, Explorers Club has grown to become not just the cornerstone of Layla’s House’s summer activities, but a hallmark of CFC’s commitment to working with community partners to provide the best possible services for our client families. Explorers Club has also proven to be extremely popular: 42 families are participating this summer, with even more on a waiting list.

After the first burst of activity, a typical day of Explorers Club centers around special activities brought to Layla’s House by a community partner. The theme for this particular week was Community, and in keeping with that theme, Glazer Children’s Museum hosted miniature versions of some of the museum’s popular exhibits, including a pretend-play Publix Supermarket and “firehouse” with pint-sized firefighter uniforms.

In addition to on-site activities and presentations, each family receives tickets to each community institution for no charge, allowing them to bring their family to experience the Glazer Museum, ZooTampa, the Florida Aquarium, and performances at the Straz Center at their leisure. To make sure families get the most out of these trips, Parent Educators encourage parents to talk mindfully with their children before, during and after each visit about the experience and how it ties into each week’s overall theme.

Each day of Explorers Club also includes time for a healthy snack. This year, as part of an agency-wide initiative, Layla’s House is using this time to teach parents five key Protective Factors for enhancing their child’s development.

Read more about the Explorers Club curriculum in Literacy Today

Every parent who comes to Explorers Club has unique reasons for seeking out the program—and even returning year after year. All, however, express a deep appreciation for the experience.

Babak has brought his daughter to Explorers Club for 3 years running. After emigrating from Iran, he and his wife found themselves feeling isolated while dealing with the typical struggles of first-time parents. Babak says he initially came to Explorers Club for the chance to share in unique and fun activities with his wife and daughter, but he keeps returning because of the unique culture of inclusion among his fellow parents.

“You talk to families who are dealing with the same problems you are,” he said. “It gives you motivation to keep persevering.”

Nancy is participating in Explorers Club for the first time with her 2-year-old son, Samuel. She says she saw Explorers Club as an opportunity for Samuel, who had been exhibiting distress when meeting new people, to better socialize with other children. After just a few short weeks of Explorers Club, that’s begun to change.

“Before Explorers Club, he would cry whenever he was around new people,” Nancy said. “Now, he’s doing much better. He even laughs and claps whenever we get to Layla’s House!”

When summer draws to a close, Babak, Nancy, and all the other Explorers Club families will come together once more at the YMCA for a graduation ceremony. Although their time at Explorers Club may be over (for this year, at least), the lessons they learned and the experiences they shared with their children will help build the foundation for a lifetime of learning.

Champions for Children is grateful to the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County for its enduring support of our services.