Free early childhood 'Play and Learn’ groups increasing for parents, caregivers

Article featured on Mlive on February 3, 2020. By Monica Scott |

GRAND RAPIDS, MI - Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) plans to expand its early childhood “Play and Learn” groups to help parents and caregivers get preschoolers ready to succeed in the classroom.

GRCC’s Fratzke Early Childhood Laboratory currently operates 11 sites in the city but anticipates adding four more in Kent County this March, ensuring outreach to areas with high populations of vulnerable families.

The groups help parents and other caregivers learn skills and strategies to prepare children for kindergarten and beyond.

“Serving the region’s youngest learners and their families is one of the ways GRCC is relevant and responsive to the people we serve,” GRCC President Bill Pink said.

“Our Phyllis Fratzke Early Childhood Learning Laboratory is a tremendous resource for the community. Director JaneAnn Benson and her team are leaders in this field, delivering innovative training for our students while helping young children during a vitally important time in their development.”

The expansion is possible because of the $671,553 the college is receiving from the Kent County’s Ready by Five Early Childhood millage.

The Kent County Board of Commissioners recently voted to allocate $3.27 million in millage money for 23 programs for the first year of early childhood development programs.

The grants will also provide the opportunity to offer more year-round sessions to extend caregiver learning beyond the school year, according to GRCC.

“We are honored to do this important work and are excited to expand the work beyond Grand Rapids as we know all children/families have need for quality early learning programming,” said Benson in a statement. “It is a very exciting opportunity!”

First Steps Kent is the nonprofit which manages the millage’s programming and finances. The group spearheaded the November 2018 ballot proposal. Voters approved the six-year millage of .25 mills by a vote of 151,359 to 115,565.

GRCC was awarded more than its initial request of $445,000 because of the the strength of the proposal and the recommendation of the Resident Proposal Review Board that GRCC explore the feasibility of expanding programming beyond the city, according to a news release.

The additional sites are under review and will be released at a future date, officials say.

Early Learning Communities hosts Play and Learn groups currently throughout the at eight Grand Rapids Public Schools’ elementary programs and community organizations at different days and times.

Parents or caregivers of a children between the ages of two to five can join in on the free, weekly, 90-minute program to learn about child development, early reading strategies and positive discipline, according to GRCC.

While you play with your children, the goal is to get great ideas of things you can do to prepare them for success.

The curriculum for the Play and Learn Groups is aligned with Michigan Department of Education expectations for kindergarten readiness.

For questions, email GRCC at or call the Community Liaison at (616) 234-2410.

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