This free program is helping pre-K children learn valuable vocab skills in a unique way


Vocabby's World event
Vocabby’s World is a free program teaching young children vocabulary words and more in Birmingham. Photo via Heath Mixon, photos were taken prior to the pandemic

Yellow taxi cabs aren’t just for hoofing it around New York City. In Birmingham, one of them sings, dances and provides local pre-K children with resources to grow their language and development skills. Vocabby’s World, a local vocabulary program sponsored by PNC Bank, is teaching new concepts to little learners through a fun mascot and community partnerships.

Learning an important skill in an accessible way

Vocabby's World brochures
The Adventures of Vocabby allows children to learn in a hands-on and interactive way. Photo via Heath Mixon

How do you get a room full of four and five years olds engaged in learning new words? Dress up as a yellow taxi cab and play games, of course.

At least, that’s how Heath Mixon, Director of the ArtPlay Community Art Education at UAB has done it for the last five years through Vocabby’s World. The program works in partnership with UAB’s Alys Stephens Center and McWane Science Center to provide a free program teaching children five and under new words every month.

The team brings diverse lessons each time, from words about measurement and transportation to ones involving space and music. As adorable and entertaining as the program is, at the core, it’s planting a bigger seed for early childhood education and language developmental skills.

“The power of words is important and that journey begins at birth. Research shows that the more words that you introduce and reinforce into a child’s vocabulary, the chances of success in grade school are exponentially raised. We are making vocabulary learning fun with arts-integrated lessons.”

Heath Mixon, Director, ArtPlay Community Art Education

More than song and dance

Through song, movement and lots of creativity Vocabby transforms the way young children see the world around them. With each lesson comes an opportunity to discover something new in their everyday lives, like recognizing the shape of a stop sign as an octagon.

After directing the program for half a decade, Heath sees first-hand the impact Vocabby makes on Birmingham children and their families.

“We love to hear when a parent or guardian comes in and tells us that their child has used a word… something as difficult as the word ‘metamorphosis,’ in everyday conversation. The parent is pleased and our work is paying off.”

Heath Mixon

Get involved with Vocabby

Although Vocabby’s World is currently virtual, the team hopes to come back in-person soon. Photo via Heath Mixon

Currently, the program takes place virtually via Zoom. But, this hasn’t deterred our city’s youngest learners.

“The audience has grown. We have gained new members of the Vocabby family that might have never happened without going virtual. We can’t wait to be back in person with our community though.”

Heath Mixon

Parents and guardians can pick up free packets once a month in Birmingham so children are able to still have the same hands-on activities that make Vocabby’s lessons so successful. Find out when the next event is and how to participate through Vocabby’s Facebook or Instagram and learn more about the program via the website.

Vocabby uses community relationships toward a larger goal

During lessons, parents and families are able to connect with each other. Photo via Heath Mixon

The investment from community partners and local families fuels the program. It not only allows Vocabby and his other educators to form relationships with families, but parents and guardians are also able to connect with each other.

“When we started the program with our community partner McWane Science Center, we knew that cultivating relationships would be a big part of its growth. What we found in the community was that Vocabby’s World was providing a venue for learning but also a place to connect with other parents.”

Heath Mixon

In fact, Vocabby is quite the coveted friend among the pre-K community. His lessons are so accessible and fun, learning time extends outside classroom events.

“Parents and guardians were planning play dates and group activities. Vocabby himself even got invited to some birthday parties.

Heath Mixon

Early childhood education is growing in Birmingham

Thanks to a grant from the PNC Foundation, Vocabby is just one way that the littlest learners throughout Birmingham are experiencing early education. The Foundation also works with community-based nonprofits such as McWane Science Center and ArtPlay to expand educational opportunities.

Their signature program, PNC Grow Up Great(R), has served more than 7M children nationwide, some of which are in Birmingham.

“Through our Grow Up Great(R) initiative, PNC is committed to helping children all across our communities get a great start. We are proud of the far-reaching impact of the Vocabby program to address the early language and vocabulary development skills of children in Birmingham.”  

Nick Willis, Regional President, PNC in Alabama

Learn more about PNC Bank and their commitment to the early childhood community by visiting their website, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

© 2021 The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

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