URBANA -- Researchers say the first few years of a child's life are critical for brain development, and what babies learn in the first nine months can affect the rest of their lives.
To help children get off to a good start, the United Way of Champaign County is sponsoring the second annual "Ready, Set, Grow!" event for 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at Lincoln Square Village in downtown Urbana.
The family event provides information, education and services available in Champaign County for parents and caregivers of children birth to age 6. About 400 families attended last year's inaugural event.
"So much takes place from birth to age 5," said Beverley Baker, director of community impact at the United Way. "Kids need parents armed with good information to help them make the right decisions. This is a community that's rich in resources, and it's great for families to learn about all that we have here."
More than 50 vendors will be on hand to share their programs and resources with families of young children or those expecting a child soon.
Hands-on demonstrations will give parents the opportunity to explore topics in more depth, and kids can enjoy games and demonstrations. Raffles, door prizes and take-home goodie bags with free books, water bottles, coupons and information will also be available.
Organizers said parents can learn about the importance of early childhood development, healthy parenting, quality parent-child interactions, child care and well-being.
Among the highlights:
SafeKids of Champaign County will offer free car seat safety checks (for newborn, toddler or big kids) and provide information on the new car seat guidelines issued last month. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommended that children ages 1 to 3 stay in a rear-facing seat as long as possible.
Co-sponsor PNC Bank will host a "Mobile Learning Adventure" in the parking lot, with a dress-up area where kids can dress up in what they want to be when they grow up. They can then have their picture taken in front of a green screen with an appropriate background (planets and stars for an astronaut, for example) and take it home with them.
B. Lime BABY will offer cloth-diaper demonstrations throughout the morning.
Babyland furniture is sponsoring the grand prize giveaway, a combination stroller/car seat.
Other vendors include Carle and Christie clinics, local libraries, early childhood programs, Chambanamoms.com, Champaign County Head Start/Early Head Start, Champaign County YMCA, Champaign Early Childhood Center, the Child Care Resource Service, Crisis Nursery, C-U Mommy Connection, Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, Developmental Services Center, East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center, Family Resiliency Center, Family Service of Champaign County, Illinois Early Learning Project, I-Parents, Orpheum Children's Science Museum, Smile Healthy, The Autism Project, The Reading Group and UI Extension.
The event is also co-sponsored by Carle and WCIA Channel 3.