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Play, Plan and Prepare

Fair Helps Parents Get Young Ones Ready for School

Early and Often

Parents play a huge role in optimizing their children’s brain development, says Terese Smith, director of Great Start to Quality program. She offers the following tips:

  • Be their favorite playmate
  • Read to them
  • Talk to them
  • Narrate your life until they are about age 4 (“then they will start narrating your life!”)
  • Provide plenty of outdoor time to play and explore

While many little ones thought Daniel Tiger, from the PBS show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, was the main attraction at the “Play, Learn, Explore!” Early Childhood Resource Fair, their parents learned about preschool, childcare, health care and fun ways to keep students active and learning.

The event, held recently at Kent Career Tech Center, was organized by early childhood programs operated through Kent ISD: Bright Beginnings, the Great Start Readiness Program, Early On and Great Start to Quality Kent Resource Center.

The day brought together 60 child care and preschool program providers along with 30 community organizations. The aim was to help parents give their children the head start they need to be ready for school, said Terese Smith, Great Start to Quality program director and chair of “Play, Learn, Explore!”

“For families with young children, we want to put a focus on early childhood,” Smith said. “That is when your brain is being built. Experts say 80 percent ofyour brain is built by the time you are 3, which is the foundation for all your other learning. We wanted to put all the child cares and preschools in one area so parents can talk to a lot of them.”

Amara DeJonge, 9 months, crawls off to discover things for herself

A Day of Fun and Information

Toddlers and preschoolers stacked toys, molded play sand, nibbled snacks and colored, while parents had the chance to enroll them or get information about programs. Children received free hearing and vision screenings from Early On and parents left with information from Kent District Library, John Ball Zoo and various organizations, ministries and financial institutions.

“It’s just family fun –- all about the kids,” Smith said. “So often the infants, toddlers and 2-year-olds are left at home, so this is an event for them.”

Antwonnette Siekierk checks out colorful critters

The Kent County Health Department offered information on vaccines required for child care and preschool in Michigan, Women Infants and Children’s (WIC) Food and Nutrition Service, and safe sleep.

Alyssa Muniz, of Grand Rapids, joined the fun with daughter Antwonnette Siekierk, 6.

“It’s a great learning base,” she said of the event. “It give a broader way to know what you need and what’s best for your child.”


How Children Connect from Early Connections

Many thanks to Kent County Health Department for sponsoring SNN
Many thanks to Kent County Health Department for sponsoring SNN

Health Officials Offer Parents Information on Vaccines

Kent County Health Department offered information on immunization requirements

Kent County Health Department representatives were on hand at “Play, Learn, Explore” to give parents the heads up about vaccines required for school entry in Michigan.

Only 54 percent of Michigan toddlers are up to date on their vaccinations, said registered nurse Mary Wisinski, who serves as immunization program supervisor. That data comes from Michigan Care Improvement Registry (MCIR) data from December 2016.

Protecting residents from disease is a primary goal of the department, and part of that equation is upping the vaccination rate, Wisinski said. “We want to protect the whole child,” she said.

Gideon Schultz, 2, plays with play sand with mom Angela Schultz and grandma Cheryl Versluis

The department is focused on providing factual information about vaccines, Wisinski said, adding the best way to protect children from serious diseases is to make sure they are fully vaccinated.

Michigan ranked 47th in the nation for its completion rate, the percent of children ages 19 months to 3 years old that are fully vaccinated.

According to the new campaign I Vaccinate, vaccine-preventable diseases can take hold and spread when less than 90 percent of children are vaccinated in a particular community. I Vaccinate is a new campaign supported by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Franny Strong Foundation.

Alexander Roiniotis, 14 months, and mom Valerie Lasko meet Daniel Tiger

Since a waiver rule was added in 2015, which requires parents to receive counsel from the Health Department in order to exempt their children from vaccinations, waiver rates have gone down 39 percent in the state. Now bills proposed in the House and Senate propose ending the waiver requirement,

When it comes to providing resources for families with young children, the Kent County Health Department provides many other services aimed at children’s growth and development, including information on the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Food and Nutrition Service Program, vision, hearing and dental care.

“We serve as another spot where Mom can ask questions or have a second contact,” Wisinski said.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


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