DeKALB – Renee James of Cortland wishes she had instructions of what to do when she was a first-time mom.
“I think most parents are a little lost when they have their first kid, they’re winging it and trying their best,” James said.
James and her two children, Jack Boerema, 5, and Ellie Boerema, 4, attended the opening of Kishwaukee United Way’s Born Learning Trail on Sept. 5 at Lions Park in DeKalb.
The trail is the first of its kind in DeKalb County. The path includes a series of 10 interactive signs that suggest ideas for fun, active learning activities for young children and their families.
The trail is a project of Kishwaukee United Way’s annual Day of Caring volunteer event. It was sponsored by Target Distribution Center, with special support from Sonoco and the DeKalb Park District, and assembled by a team of volunteers from Target and the broader community. Nearly all the trail’s artwork was designed by young local artist Devan Rud.
“The goal of the trail is to help a child’s brain develop through colors, shapes and activities,” Kishwaukee United Way Director Dawn Littlefield said. “By interacting with the signs and stations along the trail, parents can help children to learn through activties such as singing, skipping, pretending and moving.”
James said she loves the activities listed on the signs that act as instructions and a guide to help parents teach their children.
“I think the instructions are a great idea, they give examples of activities and interactions, what to do with your kids,” she said. “I think it’d be really helpful for first-time parents. And it allows you to do something together with your children, get away from the TV and screens.”
The opening event included a ribbon-cutting and featured interactive games, activities and giveaways from BASICS DeKalb County, The Growing Place, Community Coordinated Child Care, Children’s Learning Center, Safe Passage, Youth Service Bureau, Adventure Works, The Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic, DeKalb Public Library, the Kishwaukee Family YMCA, the DeKalb Park District, the Salvation Army and Live, Learn & Lead.
A Thrivent Action Team Grant and donations from the Kohl’s Cares program allowed Kishwaukee United Way to distribute free children’s books and stuffed animals.
Courtney Hill, program coordinator for BASICS DeKalb County, said the new pathway ties into her program’s focus on “empowering and educating parents, caregivers and the community about evidence-based nurturing tools anyone can use with children to boost brain development.”
Kishwaukee United Way partnered with the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education and its BASICS program, a local initiative that mirrors the trail’s activities and intent of engaging kids in early learning.
“Eighty percent of brain growth happens in the first three years of life,” Hill said. “Our goal is to make sure every child in DeKalb County is ready for kindergarten. Kindergarten readiness can predict and is an indicator of lifelong academic success.”
Samantha Siebel of DeKalb attended the event with her two children, 4-year-old Liam and 5-year-old Xoe.
“I think the trail is a lot of fun, it’s interactive and colorful,” Siebel said. “It’s a great way to have fun, enjoy the park and for both parents and their children to learn something new. I saw Xoe playing hopscotch before. I didn’t know she knew how to do that.”
Phil Young, DeKalb Park District Board president, in his speech during the opening event, said playgrounds and open spaces, like the Born Learning Trail, “provide crucial and vital opportunities for children to play.”
“There is a clear link between play and brain development, motor skills and social capabilities,” Young said. “These types of outdoor activities are what the DeKalb Park District is all about, and we plan to continue to offer many more activities for children, through corporate, intergovernmental and nonprofit sponsorships and collaborations such as this.”
Companies or organizations interested in sponsoring a Born Learning Trail in other areas of the county should call Dawn Littlefield at 815-756-7522.