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A smarter way to start

By Jeanna Baxter White

Beaudigital

for Mebane Foundation

Four-year-old Tommy carefully considers the boxes of toys lining the Smart Start bookshelves before selecting a kit labeled “Sand and Water Play.” His mom, Emily MacCaull, waits patiently, allowing him to choose for himself.

These toy kits are just one of the resources Smart Start of Davie County offers residents and early childhood educators as it seeks to ensure quality childcare, education, health, and family support programs for all Davie children birth to 5.

Smart Start is North Carolina’s early childhood initiative designed to ensure that young children enter school healthy and ready to succeed. Studies show that the foundation for lifelong success in school and work is laid during these years.

MacCaull first learned about Smart Start and the toy-lending program from the daughter of a Smart Start employee when her older son Robbie, who is now a first-grader at William R. Davie Elementary School, was a baby. Since then, her sons have checked out every kit offered at least once.

“I don’t know why we even buy toys because the boys love to check these out,” MacCaull said with a laugh. “It’s been so nice to borrow a kit for a week or two and not have to own so many toys at home.”

In fact, when the boys outgrow or get tired of their toys, the MacCaull family donates them to Smart Start to help create additional kits.

“Checking out the kits has also broadened the boys’ horizons because they’ve selected things I wouldn’t have thought they would have been interested in.”

Tommy is also enrolled in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program and the MacCaulls have enjoyed the group connections activities hosted by the Parents as Teachers educators and open to all families with young children. These are held throughout the year with the focus of making social connections among parents and children.

BlockFest, one of the more popular group connections, is a research-based exhibit that helps raise awareness of early math and science learning by offering hands-on block play experiences. Other activities this summer included making ice cream, tie-dying, an outdoor story walk, and a cooking class.

The next group connection, Roll and Read!, will be held on Sept. 20 in conjunction with Davie Recreation and Parks. Register by calling 336.753.8326.

Smart Start Director Gena Taylor would love to have every family in Davie County with young children take advantage of these programs as well as others.

“I want our community to know that we are a non-profit that is here to create a Smart Start for children ages birth to 5. Many people confuse us with Head Start or believe that we are a childcare center where children are kept during the day,” said Taylor. “Instead, our mission is to give families what they need to help raise and nurture their children to be successful in kindergarten. These services include programs to assist with health, early care and education, family support, literacy, and more.”

“We are a one-stop-shop where parents can find referrals to resources in our community, lists of childcare centers, and more,” she added. “We work with our childcare centers to ensure high quality and offer training for teachers.  We provide many programs for parents to be successful in the home with their children such as parenting classes, educational toys, and having quality books to create a love of reading prior to kindergarten.”

Programs funded by Smart Start of Davie:

• Child Care Health Consultant, a free health consulting service for legally operating childcare facilities;

• Childcare Subsidy, a childcare scholarship program for families;

• Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, an early literacy program for children;

• Parents as Teachers, an intensive, in-home, parent/child education program;

• Nurturing Parenting Program, a 10-week parenting class;

• Strengthening the Foundations of Quality, a technical assistance program for childcare providers;

• Early Childhood Resource Center, a free toy and resource lending library for parents and childcare providers;

• Reach Out and Read, an early literacy program championed by local pediatricians; and

• WAGE$, an educational incentive program for childcare providers.

Smart Start of Davie also offers trainings throughout the year that all early childhood educators, parents, and community members are invited to join. The free trainings can be found at https://www.daviesmartstart.org/educators/.

One initiative is Parents as Teachers (PAT), a home-visiting, parent education program. This free service is available to all families from prenatal to 5 years of age or kindergarten start. Smart Start of Davie is a Blue-Ribbon Affiliate, meaning the program follows the essential requirements of the model, which provide minimum expectations for program design, infrastructure, and service delivery.

“Sometimes it would be nice if a baby, toddler or preschooler came with a  manual,” said Susan McBride, family support coordinator and parent educator. “Welcoming a newborn into the world is an overwhelming and cherished experience. After being discharged from the hospital the feeling of now what sets in quickly for many new parents. The Parents as Teachers program can help ease that transition.”

The PAT program allows trained Parent Educators to build relationships with families and offer invaluable tools to ready children for school starting as early as prenatal visits.

Parent Educators check baby milestones, bring developmental activities for parents to learn and get ideas from, and answer any questions and concerns. During the bi-weekly visits, Parent Educators reflect, engage and connect with families on topics that are at the center of the family.  These topics could be nutrition, safe sleep, language development, parenting values, postpartum depression, or transitions to just name a few.  The personal visits the family receive are custom for the needs of each family.

A new enhancement to the PAT program is LENA technology. The technology is a standard for measuring talk with children, which is a critical factor in early brain development. LENA uses a small wearable device – often referred to as a talk pedometer – combined with cloud-based software to deliver detailed feedback that helps adults make proven, sustainable increases in interactive talk with children. Parent Educators introduced LENA to families in the spring of 2019 and there are currently 14 children participating.

“Our goal is to build strong protective factors to keep families healthy, strong and resilient while preparing children for success,” McBride said.   

To learn more about the programs offered by Smart Start of Davie visit, www.daviesmartstart.org or follow them on Facebook or Instagram.  Smart Start is at 1278 Yadkinville Road, Mocksville, 336-751-2113.