COLUMBIA — At age 4, Ariyana Barnes may not know how to read, but she already has a favorite book.
"It's Pete the Cat. He has a three pairs of shoes, and he has a song. It goes, 'I'm rockin' in my school shoes. I'm rockin' in my school shoes,'" Ariyana sang with a smile between sips from her juice box.
Her aunt, Jackie Barnes, 19, is Ariyana's primary caregiver.
"She sings that all the time at home. I was wondering where it came from," Barnes said. Barnes, who works full-time as a housekeeper at Columbia's Stoney Creek Inn, said the she tries to read to Ariyana at home, but that it's hard to find the time.
Barnes and Ariyana were two of the 80 preschool students and family members who attended Columbia Public Schools' Title I preschool's family literacy event on Thursday evening at the former Field Elementary School building.
One evening a month, the school opens the building to its students and their families. The purpose of the event is to teach parents how to reinforce school lessons through games, crafts and songs.
Kristina Weston, who manages the preschool program at the Field location, said that Thursday's event was the school's best-attended all year. She said the school's three classrooms serve 45 students, and more than 30 families attended the event.
"When parents see what their children are working on, it makes the students excited to come to school," Weston said. "As adults, we want a sense of ownership and pride in what we do. It's the same for children."
Children and their family members worked on literacy-based projects after they finished their meals, which were donated by local restaurants.
At one table, Marques Mitchell, 5, matched beads marked with lowercase letters to cards printed with the corresponding uppercase letter. Satina Shields, 36, Marques's aunt, attended the event with him.
Shields said she was excited that Marques had just been admitted to the school's full-day program.
Weston said that the preschool has 20 students on the waitlist.
"He's real smart," Shields said. "We have a poster of the planets on his wall, and he's already naming them."
Events like Thursday's literacy night help to get parents involved, said Janice Legarsky, a Title I preschool teacher at Field.
"We're trying to give parents tools to reinforce learning at home," Legarsky said.
Each student left the event with donated hardcover books and a stuffed animal.