Childhood development takes place in their first five years of life, so those are the years that play a critical role in shaping their futures, affecting everything from the way they form relationships to the way they comprehend the world and take on challenges. Unlike older children and adults, these pint-sized people don’t learn by reading books—they learn by seeing and doing. By touching and smelling and tasting. By getting their hands dirty and trying themselves out for themselves. Every experience they have is one that feeds into their future, and so the dedicated teams at United Way have launched programs all across the nation in hopes of expanding the horizons of children whose potential is just waiting to be tapped.
As part of a national campaign called Born Learning, United Way of the Greater Clarksville Region, Inc., put plans into action to install The Born Learning Trail at Liberty Park, where the citizens of Clarksville could enjoy the trail and bring their little ones to get some truly hands-on learning.
“Everyday life is a learning experience for children, and the Born Learning campaign is geared toward helping parents, caregivers, and communities use everyday moments to boost the school readiness of preschool aged children,” says CEO Ginna Holleman. “The quality of a child’s early learning experiences is critical to their success in school, and we believe the trail will be a valuable community resource for early learning because it promotes education in a fun and interactive way—which is an essential component of early childhood learning. The trail is going to be an extremely useful tool in helping local children boost their language, reading, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills; and it offers families a place to be active and elevate awareness of early childhood education,” she explains. “We’re very hopeful that the trail will also become widely used throughout the community as a unique outdoor classroom for activities like story times, back-to-school drives and events, homeschool outings, daycare and preschool outings, children’s health fairs or events, and family picnics.”
The project was a perfect partnership between the City of Clarksville and the United Way of the Greater Clarksville Region, who worked together with a number of volunteers to install the trail and bring it to colorful life. Along the 300 foot-long trail, the unique and vibrant artwork and handiwork of local artists and volunteers keeps things looking lively, and signage at each of the 10 interactive outdoor play stations encourages parents, caregivers, and children to get active, learn, and bond. “This unique project helped connect volunteers more closely with community change work and provided them with an exciting hands-on opportunity to make a difference.
All of the volunteers represented diverse segments of community members who all lent their time, talents, and effort to install the trail, and many brought their entire families to participate,” says Holleman. “It was heart-warming to see preschool-aged children actively helping create this trail and witness the parental support encouraging them along the way; and it really provides a visible symbol of our city’s commitment to children and healthy family lifestyles.” Officially opening the trail during a ribbon cutting ceremony on June 21 was an assembly of excited preschoolers from the Lafayette Road Head Start, who joined Holleman and United Way volunteers, Mayor of Clarksville Kim McMillan, and Clarksville Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Letourneau before they busted loose to try out the trail for themselves.
“This trail is such a wonderful way to make our beautiful Liberty Park an even better place for our children and provides them with a truly natural learning environment, right out in nature where they can get some fresh air and exercise as well as a mental boost that helps them learn and be healthy,” says McMillan. And that’s certainly something to smile about—for anyone of any age. “The smiles I see every time I pass the trail speak for themselves, but it’s fantastic to hear people’s energetic responses and see them using the trail and actively engaging outdoors,” Holleman says. From first station to last, every stop on the trail is a reminder that learning can be fun, that getting your hands in there is something we can all benefit from doing—no matter how old we get. And that’s a lesson that even the littlest child can teach us.