The United Way of Greater Niagara has been an integral supporter and long-standing partner of Niagara University’s early childhood initiatives starting with the Niagara County Early Child Care Quality Improvement Project (Niagara QIP), housed at the Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M. Institute for Civic Engagement. One of the Niagara QIP’s current early childhood initiatives funded by UWGN is “Books, Balls and Blocks.”

Established in 2017, Books, Balls and Blocks is a free program for children aged 4 months to 6 years old, comprised of various early learning activity stations in which young children are provided the opportunity to engage in developmentally appropriate play with their parents. Through the program’s many activities, parents learn about interactions that help stimulate their child’s development and gain ideas for how to support their child’s early learning at home.

Books, Balls and Blocks events are held every fall and spring semester in the public libraries in Lockport, Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda, as well as Niagara University’s Family Literacy Center. Each event involves community partners who provide parents with critical resources and information on child development, health insurance, vision screening and other services.

Thanks to funding from UWGN, to date more than 329 young children and 270 parents in Niagara County have benefited from participating in these unique early childhood outreach events intended to identify children at risk for developmental delays or disabilities. By identifying children as young as possible, effective interventions can begin early and significantly improve outcomes for children and their families.

Several studies cited by the American Academy of Pediatrics estimate that 12% to 16% of children in the United States have developmental or behavioral disorders, and less than half of these are detected before children reach kindergarten. Since the advent of Books, Balls and Blocks, 36 percent of the children who participate in our program have been identified as in need of further support and/or services, in which they are successfully connected with local Early Intervention or other community-based resources.

Developmental screening programs like Books, Balls and Blocks are critical to the early identification of developmental delays and the provision of Early Intervention services and treatments that have the capacity to change both short- and long-term developmental trajectories of children who may be experiencing such delays or have a developmental disability.

Through interactions with parents at Books, Balls and Blocks events, we educate them on the importance of child developmental milestones and early detection of delays. Learning happens as parents, children and other family members interact in a fun and engaging way. Parents leave our Books, Balls and Blocks events with more confidence knowing they can support their child’s development and better prepare them for kindergarten.

In addition to the generous support of UWGN, Niagara University students and community partners are crucial to the success of Books, Balls and Blocks. Graduate students in our literacy program conduct literacy screenings and our early childhood students facilitate the early learning play-based activity stations. This provides our students with rich experiential learning opportunities to engage with and increase awareness of appropriate child development and the importance of partnering with parents in this process.

Books, Balls and Blocks events also include a literacy screening for children aged 3 to 6 years. To date, 130 early literacy screenings have been administered to children who attend our events. Early literacy screenings are used to assess and monitor areas of early literacy development, including literacy identification, word reading and concepts about print.

We thank UWGN for its commitment to improving the lives of children and families in Niagara County. It is because of UWGN’s financial support that we can continue to offer Books, Balls and Blocks events and provide opportunities for more children to be screened, have their learning needs identified, and link families to vital support services.

If you have a child between the ages of 4 months and 6 years, join us at one of our upcoming Books, Balls and Blocks events:

WEDNESDAY — North Tonawanda Public Library, noon to 2 p.m.

OCT. 24 — Niagara Falls Public Library (LaSalle location),  10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

OCT. 26 — Niagara Falls Public Library (Main Street location), 10 a.m. to noon

OCT. 30 — Lockport Public Library, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

These free events are a great way to engage parents and children in our community in play while also providing children with early literacy, developmental and vision screenings. In addition, fun Halloween themed activities and games, as well as food and refreshments, are provided. Every child who attends will receive a book to take home and costumes are also welcome!   

Lynnette Haley O’Stewart, Ph.D., is the director of the Niagara Quality Improvement Project (QIP) at Niagara University. To register for the Books, Balls, and Blocks program, please visit www.niagara.edu/booksballsandblocks or call 286-8567.

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