Kent ISD — “Plop” was the sound the boat made as it hit the water, tossed from the hands of a giggling, dancing Ma’Zyiah Ware.
The 4-year-old immediately reached for the next boat in line along the cement border of the Great Lakes Garden, taking a moment to study it before raising it above her head and dropping it into the water with another “plop.” Her mother, Marquita Ware, laughed along.
“I love bringing her to events like this,” Ware said. “It helps to build social skills and more experiences in seeing things, interacting with other children and developing motor skills.”
The event was the annual Laugh and Learn, hosted by the Kent ISD early education programs: Bright Beginnings, Early On Michigan, Great Start Readiness Program and Great Start to Quality. The program was able to be expanded thanks to the support of Kent County taxpayers and the Ready by Five Early Childhood millage, overseen by First Steps Kent.
This year’s event was one of the largest, said Bright Beginnings Coordinator/Supervisor Karen Lezan. Held at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in May, more than 1,500 people attended on the warm spring day.
“It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to provide a free family event and have so many ways for parents and kids to play together and enjoy the beautiful Frederik Meijer Gardens,” Lezan said. “We are so thrilled to be able to offer this event every year.”
Attendees checked in outside of the Garden’s amphitheater. Inside there were community resource tables featuring such groups as Easter Seals, the Kent County Department of Health, Michigan Alliance for Families, Family Futures and many more.
From the community resource tables, participants moved along to the amphitheater, where drums were at the ready for those, like 4-year-old Maddie Grace Pierzchala, who wanted to tap along to the music.
“This is really cool,” said Maddie Grace’s mom, Jen-Marie Pierzchala, who said Maddie Grace is part of the Early On program. “It gives you an opportunity to talk to people about the resources that are available.”
From the amphitheater, activities spilled throughout the Gardens: puppeteer Kevin Kammeraad, part of the Kent District Library’s engagement team, shared stories and songs while showcasing the KDL Bookmobile behind the amphitheater; storytime was in the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden; art activities, face painting and food were in the Garden’s main building; and family yoga and music therapy took place at the DeVos Van Andel Plaza.
Taking advantage of all of it was Bonnie Henderson and her son Amari.
“I hope things like this will help him socialize with other children,” said Henderson, who said Amari was recommended to the Early On program by her son’s doctor; through that the family discovered the Bright Beginnings playgroups, which they also attend. “I think the music will be the best part; he loves to dance.”
“It really is a lot of fun,” said Christopher Martinez, who watched his 2-year-old son Zander play in the Great Lake Garden. “It is something to do and a place to explore and we probably picked the most popular spot.”
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