Prioritizing Parents through the Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage

Parents are a child's first and most important teachers. They play a crucial role in their child's early development. They are the ones who provide the most consistent and meaningful interactions with their child, shaping their social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development.

Early childhood programs and services that prioritize parental involvement create opportunities for families to engage with each other and build supportive relationships. This fosters a sense of community and belonging, which is essential for children.

The Resident Proposal Review Board – the group that recommends which programs receive millage funding – created the “Prioritizing Parents Fund” during the previous funding cycle. Current Ready by Five partner agencies had the opportunity to apply for additional funding for parent-focused initiatives to enhance their scope of work already funded by the millage. Seven Ready by Five partner agencies are the first to be awarded nearly $300,000 in funding.

About the Prioritizing Parents Initiatives:

  • Kent ISD’s Bright Beginnings will host fun and educational events to build the skills and strengths of parents. The popular Laugh and Learn Event at Frederik Meijer Gardens will be expanded to include additional activities that help parents nurture their child’s development and learning at home. A new component of the event will focus on assessing and understanding the needs of families. A second and brand-new event – Early Childhood Parent Professional Development Day – will offer free parenting education with sessions aligned to the evidenced-based Parents as Teachers/Strengthening Families framework. The half-day conference will include topics such as routine, behavior, sleep, feeding, self-care, and safety.

  • Play and Learn GRCC will offer three different opportunities for parents and caregivers. The first is an adult playgroup to inform parents about the learning that happens through play while giving them opportunities to incorporate more playful moments into their routine. GRCC will also extend the length of current adult-child playgroups, which will allow time for caregivers to “step out” and receive instruction on a specific learning topic and then rejoin the playgroup to practice the new skill with their child. Finally, there will be a new learning conference for parents and caregivers.

“These initiatives give us the opportunity to try different strategies to see what best supports the learning of caregivers,” said Kathleen Neumann, child development community liaison for GRCC. “For families who regularly attend playgroups, this is an opportunity to go deeper and strengthen their parenting skills while building closer bonds with their children.”

  • Health Net of West Michigan will conduct parent listening sessions. Each session will focus on a specific issue that parents are having difficulty navigating, such as housing insecurity, mental health needs, and applying for public assistance. Health Net will also establish a parent advisory council – a group of eight parents that will meet regularly to advise Health Net’s early childhood team. Some funding will also support staff training regarding parent engagement.

  • Vibrant Futures will work to amplify and document the voice of parents, specifically as it relates to navigating the child care landscape. The project consists of a new parent advisory group, a child care navigation survey focused on reoccurring needs identified by parents, a process of parent empowerment through co-design, and intentional efforts to amplify parent voice through community findings and solutions.

  • Family Futures will train staff in the Be Strong Families framework to convene a series of Parent Cafés, facilitating deep self-reflection and peer-to-peer learning. During Parent Cafés, caregivers explore their strengths, learn about the Protective Factors, and create strategies from their own wisdom and experiences to strengthen their families. If you want to be involved with Parent Cafés, please email Logan Bailey at

  • Healthy Homes Coalition of WestMichigan will educate families on safe drinking water and distribute water kits if there is concern about lead pipes. At the same time, the team will educate participants about other lead-based hazards in the home. It will also serve as an outreach opportunity to connect more community members to services funded by Ready by Five.

“We know that water is a typical source of concern when people think about lead poisoning. However, in our community, most children are impacted by lead when they come into contact with lead dust from deteriorating paint,” said Stephanie McKendry, Program Manager for Healthy Homes Coalition.

“Our aim is to provide education to community members about lead, water, and safe drinking water options and debunk misconceptions of the prevalence of lead in water. I think it’s so powerful when parents are engaged in their community in causes that they are passionate about. This initiative takes an opportunity to connect with members of our community regarding their concerns about risks.”

  • MomsBloom will focus on evaluating current opportunities, determining gaps, and ensuring that parent involvement opportunities are more visible and accessible to all families in the community. This will be initiated using a series of surveys.

To learn more about the Prioritizing Parents Fund or any of these initiatives, reach out to Megan Streng at

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