By Mark Rountree
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Statistics indicate that 90 percent of brain development occurs before the age of 5.
A Stillwater agency is working to make sure resources are available to ensure that vital learning time is established and nurtured.
Smart Start of North Central Oklahoma focuses on the development of children ages 0 to 6. Its primary function is to provide information to adults and parents through training, partnerships and workshops.
“We want to get (children) ready for school, get some early literacy, ensure that our community is a safe place for kids,” said Brandi White, executive director of Smart Start of North Central Oklahoma and the director of the Saville Center, a shelter for abused or neglected children. “We want to make sure that professionals in our community understand that the most significant part of a child’s early brain development is in those early years.”
One of Smart Start’s recent initiatives was a program on social thinking training for child care providers. The program teaches staff how to deal with children who have behavioral development issues such as autism.
“I will bring in statistics on that and (suggest) the best ways to incorporate that into your classroom,” said Sarah Ragland, Smart Start community coordinator.
Ragland, a recent Oklahoma State University graduate in human development and family science, provides the bulk of the training, pulling resources together for people attending the training.
“I may go to a day care and ask, ‘What kind of training are you lacking? What do you feel like you are not experienced in? What do you see in your children?’” Ragland said. “Whatever they tell me they need, I try to find it and bring it to them.”
White said a popular and successful initiative is the “Books for Babies” program in conjunction with hospitals.
“It’s our goal that every baby born in Payne County leaves the hospital with at least one book,” White said.
Smart Start will be involved in National Family Week in November in which activities will be suggested to families to engage with their children for the whole week.
“Hopefully, that will start a habit for them of going to the park together, going on a picnic with their children, reading a book, having a family night with no electronics,” said Ragland, who will be distributing that information at schools in Payne County.
Smart Start covers four counties in north central Oklahoma. It is funded by a $65,000 annual grant from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and approximately $14,000 in annual funding through the Stillwater United Way.
Smart Start, located at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Walnut Street, operates out of the same location as the Saville Center. Smart Start began in Stillwater in 2001 and became a stand-alone entity in 2004.
“At the Saville Center, we are dealing with children of abuse and neglect,” White said. “We started looking at the big picture and how we could prevent these things from happening. We started looking at programs like Smart Start, (which) creates a community that is supportive of families and small children. What our hope is that we can make the Stillwater community, the Payne County community, one that is safer for kids. ... We feel that (Smart Start) is the first step and that maybe (the Saville Center) won’t have to do as much in the long run on abuse and neglect. ... We feel like we are having a strong impact on families and hopefully the outcome for those children down the line will be much better.”
For more information about Smart Start, go to www.smartstart.org or call 405-377-2786. For more information about the Saville Center, go to www.savillecenter.org or call 405-377-5670.