MOUNT VERNON — There is new life in Mount Vernon’s Riverside Park. This new energy and spirit is expected to make changes in the lives of area families by creating an environment that encourages collaborative learning between parent and child.
“Let me say this project itself is fantastic. This breathes new life in Riverside Park,” Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis said of the Born Learning Trail and the Early Learning Playground, which were dedicated Saturday morning during the United Way of Knox County’s Day of Action.
Appreciative of Rotary Park’s initiative to bring more children and families to the park, Mavis said these two new additions were positive additions to the city’s west side.
Mavis, along with Mount Vernon City Council Member and Parks Committee Chairman Chuck Dice, officially opened the playground and trail with a ceremonious ribbon cutting that included donors and supporters of the project.
“We have to provide the best educational and recreational opportunities we can to make our children better citizens for tomorrow,” Dice said.
The playground is full of “traditional” playground equipment that incorporates numbers, letters, colors, shapes and many other learning possibilities.
The Born Learning Trail is a series of areas along a freshly cemented path to guide parents and caregivers through simple activities they do together while in the park, including acting like specific animals, finding different shapes and colors throughout the park, and getting in touch with nature.
“Every moment you spend with a child is an opportunity to help them get ready to succeed in school and in life. This is at the heart of our Born Learning campaign and this work is a priority area for United Way. Our message is clear today: We need to remember that children are born learning and as a community working together, we shape their learning,” said Jen Odenweller, executive director of United Way of Knox County.
Focusing on early learning, the Day of Action brought together over a dozen area agencies, businesses and organizations that offered educational opportunities for parents and children that can be incorporated into everyday family life.
“Learning is one of the most important survival skills for a child. When children are born, they are already learning,” said Peg Tazewell, director of Knox County Head Start and chairwoman of the Knox County Family and Children First Council. “A child’s most important teacher is a parent or a primary caregiver. … As a community, we all have a responsibility to create opportunities that promote early learning so that our children are ready to go to school and ready to succeed in life.”
Activities from learning techniques for baby massages, story time, edible art projects, dental hygiene information, developmental screenings, obstacle course, sensory exploration activities and even a mini-grocery store offered families advice to incorporate learning into ordinary activities.
“This is a great way to keep kids interested in the grocery store and show parents how their children can learn while they shop,” said Tami Ruhl, dietitian with the Knox County Heath Department.
The exercise gave parents a list of questions that not only quizzed children on shapes and colors but also on smart eating choices. In addition, it also offered education to parents on an expanded Women Infants and Children food package that will also include fruits and vegetables come October.
In addition to helping parents and caregivers better connect with the learning needs of young children, the day served as a learning experience for several Mount Vernon High School students.
Ashlee Blanton and Ty Fulton, both senior officers of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, organized volunteers to help out with the event.
“I love being with kids and I thought this would be a great thing for FCCLA to be involved in,” Blanton, FCCLA president, said.
“I want people to be better parents and hope to teach family consumer sciences one day. This just seems like a perfect fit for us,” said FCCLA vice president Fulton.
Members of the MVHS football team arrived early and assisted with constructing tents, filling coolers and moving chairs.
“I believe in community service,” said senior John Fernandez. “I’m just happy to help.”