Each week in partnership with the Merced County Office of Education we highlight North Valley leaders and programs specializing in early childhood education.

The program is just like its name — Caring Kids. It’s put on by MCOE and funded by the Mental Health Services Act. Children are typically referred when they are displaying challenging behaviors or delays in social-emotional development between the ages of 0-5 — but there’s also a prevention portion of the program.

A fun way for children to be cared for and to in return care for their parent.

Little Red Riding Hood. A simple story-line and one we’ve all heard before. However, in the the Caring Kids playgroup in the Stephen Leonard Park Community Center in Merced the story is a way for children and parents to work on their social skills with each other.

“That is a key factor. The parents are learning, as well, on how to interact positively with their children,” said MCOE’s Social Skills Trainer Maria Bautista.

The play group is the interactive prevention portion of the Caring Kids — a  mentoring system between MCOE and local families in need of parent and child support.

“A lot of the time parents don’t know what to do but it’s not because they don’t want to it’s because they don’t have the tools or they are parenting the way they were parented,” said Bautista.

“Parent gets to feel like they are having a major part of that experience and that they are really driving it, but we are there holding their hand making sure we are there,” said MCOE Social Skills Trainer Taylor Frost.

For Karina Spicer and her son Marcell, the playgroup is not just fun and games.

“I get to make mommy friends and interact with other moms who are going through the same things I am with kids that are around the same age. We get to just talk about the program and our lives,” she said.

It’s about a positive and supportive environment for both.

“It helps me try to get him ready for preschool so he can be well behaved pay attention to other adults they ready him stories he gets to play with other kids he gets to socialize with other kids,” said Spicer.

Because there’s nothing stronger than a child and parent bond.

“Parents are their best and first teachers so that child is looking at that parent for their love and support. That parent should be in the drivers seat. We just help with fine tuning things sometimes,” said Frost.