Thoughts from Fun Van

Meet Your Educator: Ashley Crooks

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Welcome to a new year at Fun Van. We wanted to take some time to introduce you to our Fun Van Educators. We will introduce a new educator for the next few weeks so that you can get to know our awesome team!

First up is: Miss Ashley Crooks

What was your favorite toy as a child?

I used to love playing with my Speak and Spell!

How many years have you been with the Fun Van? 2 Years

What did you do before working at the Fun Van? 

I taught 4th grade, 1st grade and preschool before moving to Arizona and dedicating my days to raising my daughter.

How Did you hear about the Fun Van?

My sister-in-law found the position posting on and said, “You should do this!” It was perfect because my husband was transitioning out of the Marines and becoming a real estate agent. I was a stay-at-home mom and wanted to support my husband while he found his                                                                                                                  footing in his new career.

What do you enjoy most about working at Fun Van?

I love when parents return to class and say they tried something we discussed in regard to their parenting and it worked. I also love watching the children learn new social emotional skills. Often times this is the first time they have the opportunity to practice these skills with other children within their age-range.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I like to travel and explore new playgrounds with my children.

What advice do you have for parents?

 Research different tools for parenting young children because what works today won’t work tomorrow. Fun Van is a great resource for parents to share ideas and discuss parenting challenges.

What’s one of your funniest parenting moments?

 My daughter was potty-training and was at the top of a slide. Unfortunately, it turned into a “water” slide!

What’s one of your favorite books and activities for your Fun Van families?

Book: Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

Cut a big paper bag with arm holes and neck holes to look like a vest. The children decorate it with collage materials to create their own paper bag outfits.

Do you have any last words for our readers?

  Come to Fun Van so we can share and laugh at our funny children and crazy parenting stories!

Masking Your Child’s Imagination

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One of the best parts about playing with young children is watching them create an elaborate world out of nothing and anything all at the same time. A box becomes a spaceship, a banana becomes a telephone and a paper plate can become the mask of a superhero, animal or president. Young children create worlds inside their own minds and bring them to life through pretend play. As parents and educators, we want to help engage these creative play scenarios by providing different materials, ideas and encouragement as our children continue to pretend and play.

Masks help jump-start a child’s imagination and gives them the opportunity to become something other than themselves. They initiate story-telling, dramatic play, and engage social-emotional development. Masks are also a great way to connect children with characters in different stories. During the spring sessions at the Fun Van, our educators have each taken a different spin on creating masks. Whether it is using paper plates, toilet paper rolls, paper, or egg cartons, toddlers and preschoolers can engage in the benefits of role playing, story-telling and dramatic play with the use of common household materials.

Ideas to get you started:

Story: The Three Little Pigs   

 Pig Noses made out of egg cartons and elastic



Story: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Bear Masks out of paper plates, paint and Popsicle sticks


Story: Duck and Goose: Here Comes the Easter Bunny

Bunny Masks out of paper, pipe cleaners, Popsicle sticks and pom poms


President’s Day Masks out of paper plates, paper and cotton balls
Story: This Little President: A Presidential Premier

Footprint Sleds

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We may live in the desert and sledding, unfortunately, is not a common activity.  However, reading books about the snow and activities one can do in it is definitely something we can do around here.

At Fun Van we like to have a craft and a storytime as well as all the other fun we have in class.  We often like to like to connect the craft to the book if possible.  These Footprint Sleds was a fun activity to go along with the book The Big Red Sled by Jane Gerver.



Max and Marla by Alexandra Boiger, Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner, and The Snowy Day by Jack Ezra Keats are other fun snow books you should definitely check out.



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We love seeing your cute kids in costumes!  Parents are welcome to join in the fun too!


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Straws make great bones, but only when doing crafts.

Does Fun Van Really Work?

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Maricopa mom attributes kindergarten success to parenting education program

Mid-year of kindergarten at Butterfield Elementary School in Maricopa, 5-year-old Ruby Hoeh’s reading indicators were assessed. She was performing at a first grade level and had a strong foundation to become a successful reader.

Her mother Kristy Hoeh, attributes much of the success to Ruby’s participation in the Apache Junction Fun Van program at the Maricopa Library.

First Things First funds the Apache Junction Library Fun Van to bring the program to parents, caregivers and accompanying young children (age’s birth to 5) that live throughout Pinal County. The Fun Van offers an eight-week program, two-part program consisting of Early Childhood STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting) and Raising A Reader. Both parenting education programs teach helpful parenting techniques to improve family communication and encourage cooperation. STEP provides parents with effective discipline strategies that promote self-esteem and mutual respect.

While Raising a Reader is designed to foster a love of books by developing a habit of reading with your child, it also teaches parents reading strategies to expand their child’s thinking, promoting language and literacy development.

Hoeh signed up for the Fun Van when her daughter Kristy was just 2 years old and she was pregnant with her son Jimmy. The program staff taught Hoeh how to engage her daughter by asking open-ended questions with the goal of getting the kids to think.

“Every week we received a new book to take home and learned about activities kids could do in everyday life that promote reading, text recognition and vocabulary building,” said Hoeh.

The parent educator also helped Hoeh work through her daughter’s daily power struggles and meltdowns.

“Kristy was feeling frustrated when she first entered our program, said Fun Van Parent Educator Felicia Smith. “Her daughter Ruby had very strong feelings and they were both just trying to get through each day. Hoeh was raised to feel like her feelings were not her own.  ‘That’s not how you feel,’ was something she heard regularly at home so she wanted to raise her children to feel comfortable expressing what they were feeling or needing.”

For Hoeh, it meant learning to acknowledge her children’s feelings even when she doesn’t approve of how they are expressing them, such as saying, “I love you so I’m not going to argue with you,” and “I see you’re really upset, but it’s not OK to talk to mommy like that.” She also began setting personal boundaries with her children, as well as others in her life.

“I’ve learned that parenting can be intentional and purposeful and fun and doesn’t just happen. It’s more fun when you think about developmental stages and what’s appropriate at each age and engaging them on different levels in life, and in interactions with other kids,” Hoeh said.

Both Ruby and Jimmy, who started the program as an infant, have benefitted so much from the program on so many levels, Hoeh said.

“First, they’ve developed an excitement for reading and they’ve made new friends and learned how to interact with other people, share, and express their feelings and trust adults,” she said.

“The program has equipped me to be a better parent, too, more confident and calmer. It helped me recognize the importance of being a parent and putting effort in being a parent pays off in the long run.”

Father’s Day

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Feet for Fathers!  That’s a thing, right?!  Well, we made it a thing for our craft last week.

Pretend and Play to Grow and Learn

We’re big fans of pretend play, and the reason why is b/c kids learn so much by playing and pretending.

This article about The Importance of Pretend Play is a great read.

“When your child engages in pretend (or dramatic) play, he is actively experimenting with the social and emotional roles of life. Through cooperative play, he learns how to take turns, share responsibility, and creatively problem-solve.”


Making Friends at Fun Van

Socializing and making friends is an important piece to a child’s development.  “Through cooperative play, he(she) learns how to take turns, share responsibility, and creatively problem-solve.”

The Importance of Pretend Play. (n.d.). Retrieved from