Thirteen children, along with their accompanying parents, came to the Harker Heights library to participate in the first session of this fall’s Stepping Stones program Monday.

The program, which is for children ages 12 to 36 weeks, is a popular one, and because there is always a waiting list, preregistration was required.

Children’s librarian Amanda Hairston said, “This is a different type of program because it’s a grant-funded program through the Family Place Initiative. ... It’s play-based with unique materials, targeting different skills.”

“This is the fourth (Stepping Stones program held) since we started implementing the Family Place Initiative in March 2017,” she added.

The Family Place Libraries Initiative trains librarians in a specially designed curriculum that focuses on early childhood development, as well as both parent and community involvement.

With the program itself taking place over a five-week period, the first session on Monday began with early literacy.

Hairston explained to the gathered parents, both mothers and fathers, that literacy at this age doesn’t necessarily mean the ability to read, but rather making sure that children are familiar with the materials.

The website www.zerotothree.org says that these materials are comprised of items such as “books, paper, and crayons,” and that, along “with the adults in their lives are the building blocks for language, reading, and writing development.” It also states that this plays a crucial role in shaping early brain development.

Hairston had separate stations set up around the room for children to explore. These included puzzles, transportation toys, such as a shopping buggy, which proved to be very popular; a dramatic play station featuring costumes; blocks; musical instruments; books; a magnetic fish pond; and a kitchen play set.

There were also information sheets posted about the room for parents to read, detailing what activities helps develop which skills. For instance, an exploration table would be good for scribbling, drawing, or Play-Doh, and helps develop fine motor-control. Dramatic play helps with the imagination.

The hourlong session had nursery rhymes being played in the background, as well. In addition to adding to a child-friendly backdrop, the musical selection also served as part of teaching early literacy, as music is proven to improve, among other things, listening and attention skills and vocabulary.

Killeen resident Maggie Fieseler brought 17-month-old son Kai, who alternated his attention between several different stations, though his favorites seemed to be the magnetic fishing, the musical instruments, and the shopping cart.

“We registered (for the program) as soon as it opened in September,” she said. She said she is looking forward to the speech development session the most as Kai’s brother has a genetic speech disorder, and she wants to know more about what the “norms” are for the different ages, and what to look for as Kai develops.

“We bring in different experts each week,” Hairston said. “Our hope is that parents will feel comfortable (in the smaller setting) to ask any questions if needed.”

For instance, next week’s topic, child development, will have staff from CTC’s Child Development department to answer questions.

Week three will feature nutrition, week four’s topic will be language and speech development, and week five will cover music.

Stepping Stones is held Monday mornings from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. For more information, contact Hairston at 254-953-5491.

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