Babies are sponges.
Their developing brains soak up knowledge at an incredible rate, and studies show what they learn in the first nine months affects the rest of their lives.
To help parents “plant the seeds for healthy child growth and development,” the United Way of Champaign County will premiere “Ready. Set. Grow!” next week at Lincoln Square Village.
The family event, scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon April 17, will showcase information, education and services available in Champaign County for parents and caregivers of children from birth to age 6.
“The first five years is just such a crucial time for building that scaffolding that’s going to be the structure for the rest of their lives,” says Beverly Baker, director of community impact for the United Way.
It’s not just academics but nurturing, bonding and healthy relationships, she said.
“If they feel secure and their needs are met, that goes a long way to firing all those neurons and connections that get made by responsive caregivers,” Baker says.
Teachers and organizations that work with children constantly emphasize the importance of parent involvement “from birth all the way through high school,” Baker says. The transition from middle school to high school is much smoother if parents are engaged, for example, “but it’s hard to engage parents that late in the game.”
And in kindergarten, “there’s so much more parents can do to equip their children and get their kids off on the right foot,” she says.
Organizers hope the April 17 event will increase awareness of the importance of early childhood development, the role of healthy parenting, quality parent-child interactions, child care and well-being, and community resources.
More than 50 vendors or exhibitors from Champaign County will share their programs and resources for families of young children or those who are expecting a child soon.
Presenters include Patty Metzler from Carle, who will talk about pediatic injury prevention; Angela Reinhart from University of Illinois Extension, on “Nurturing Yourself & Your Child”; and R.J. McNicholl from The Pavilion, who will discuss behavior modification strategies for parents.
Door prizes and take home goodie bags will also be available.
For the kids, there will be a tricycle race, a “diaper dash” crawling contest for babies, demonstrations from The Little Gym, inflatables from the Urbana Fire Department, storytime with folks from local public libraries, and a discovery play zone with carnival games, floor puzzles, Legos and other manipulatives. It’s a chance for parents to play with their children, Baker says.
Wonder Red from the PBS show “Super WHY!” will make an appearance, along with other special guests who can’t be named because of licensing restrictions (but a certain red furry monster with an orange nose is expected).
Co-chairs for the event are Laura Frerichs, associate director of the UI Research Park, and Joel Oschwald, vice president of First State Bank President.
Photo: Preschoolers listen to teacher Ellen Plummer at the Marilyn Quellar Child Care Center in Urbana. News-Gazette file photo by Vanda Bidwell