A woman reads to a little girl wearing a paper crown.

First Steps Kent, GRCC launch partnership to provide community play groups

A woman uses play money to make a pretend purchase from four children playing store with a toy cash register. The sign hanging from the ceiling says "Burton Veterinarian Clinic."First Steps Kent and GRCC are teaming up to provide community play groups in eight locations throughout Grand Rapids.

First Steps Kent, a Kent County nonprofit organization that works to strengthen and coordinate early childhood services, will work with GRCC’s Phyllis Fratzke Early Childhood Learning Laboratory to organize the weekly play groups for children ages 2 to 5.

Parents, caregivers and children will take part in the free play groups with intentionally designed activities to prepare the children for success.  The parents and caregivers will learn about child development, early reading and positive discipline, said JaneAnn Benson, director of GRCC’s Early Childhood Learning Laboratory.

“We are excited to work in partnership with First Steps Kent and Grand Rapids Public Schools in sharing early childhood resources and activities throughout the area,” she said. “The play groups will help children build literacy skills while having fun. It will be a wonderful opportunity for caregivers to learn from us — and from each other.”

First Steps Kent started the Early Learning Communities playgroups as a demonstration project, said Annemarie Valdez, president and CEO of First Steps Kent.

“Since starting with FSK, Early Learning Communities has provided a quality early learning experience for many children, along with their parents and caregivers,” she said.  “We are thrilled to have Grand Rapids Community College as a partner to steer this effort going forward. True partnerships such as this benefit our children and the whole community.”

The groups will meet for 90 minutes every week during the academic year at:

  • Aberdeen Elementary, 928 Aberdeen St. NE.
  • Burton Elementary, 2133 Buchanan Ave. SW.
  • Coit Creative Arts Academy, 617 Coit Ave. NE.
  • Congress Elementary, 940 Baldwin St. SE.
  • The Grand Rapids Library’s main branch at 111 Library St. NE.
  • Harrison Park Elementary, 1440 Davis Ave. NW.
  • Madison Square Church, 1441 Madison Ave. SE.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Academy, 645 Logan St. SE.

GRCC President Bill Pink said the play groups would not be possible without cooperation from many community organizations.

“We are grateful to Grand Rapids Public Schools, the library and Madison Square Church for providing the space to help Grand Rapids children learn and grow,” he said. “All of us benefit when our youngest learners feel confident and successful in the classroom.”

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