Messy Morning provides educational activities for young children

Saturday, February 7, 2009 | 1:56 p.m. CST; updated 5:34 p.m. CST, Sunday, February 8, 2009
From left, Iman Eltkhtash, age 4, Shahed Mohammad, age 8, and Cheynne Ratliff, right, age 8, play together at "Messy Morning," a free morning of fun activities designed to improve motor and reading skills. It was held at West Junior High School on Saturday.

COLUMBIA – It was hard not to notice smile after smile as children walked through the door for a “messy morning.” But the children weren’t the only ones smiling; so were the parents and grandparents they brought with them.

“Messy Morning” was held from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at West Junior High School. The morning gave children up to 5 years old, the chance to increase motor and reading skills. Free books were provided to them as they came in.

Nadia Salem, a Title I preschool teacher at Park Avenue Head Start and employee of Columbia Public Schools, was helping with “Messy Morning” for the third year in a row. She is sure this event will go on for years to come.

“I love seeing families interacting and seeing kids having fun,” Salem said.

Fran Grant, a preschool teacher at West Boulevard Elementary School and event coordinator for “Messy Morning,” said the program is meant to incorporate Columbia's educational organizations with public schools and to allow parents to learn about teaching in new ways.

This is the seventh year for the program, Grant said. First called the “Readiness Fair,” the program was started by multiple education organizations to allow young children to interact with kids their own age as well as with their parents.

The name of the program was soon changed to “Messy Morning,” and attendance has increased over the years, Grant said. Last year, more than 800 children attended the event. Many of the organizers felt demand exceeded the program's capacity. They decreased publicity this year and instead focused on reaching their target children, including those who have limited learning resources.

Kim Berry, a Title I teacher at Park Avenue Head Start and an employee of Columbia Public Schools, estimated that between 200 and 250 children attended this year's event. With their parents, she estimated about 450 total people came through the door. Berry also said there were about 70 volunteers for the event.

One room had booths with different activities from individual organizations set up around the edges. Crafts included valentines, cereal bracelets and special letters. There was even a hidden treasure search, which left mounds of shredded paper all over the floor. Also in the room were representatives from MU’s nursing program and from the police and fire departments.

Children proudly showed their parents what they created or learned and quickly ran to the next station to see what it had in store.

In another room, colorful games and activities — focused on keeping the kids active and on improving motor skills — were as scattered as the children.

At 10:15 and 11:30 a.m., Mr. Stinky Feet’s Jim Cosgrove performed for the children and their families. Cosgrove sang songs like “Shout Hooray” and “Slug Bug.” His songs allowed interaction for the children, both on stage and in the audience.

Hudson, Berry’s grandson, stayed at the event the entire time.

“Want a marshmallow?” Hudson asked as he relaxed after being a part of the Mr. Stinky Feet band.

Hudson said his favorite part of the event was stringing cereal onto pipe cleaners to make bracelets, but he didn’t have one on his wrist.

“I don’t have one,” Hudson said. “I made them for Nadia and Grandma.”

Sarah Howard, children’s coordinator for the Columbia Public Library, wore a neon green shirt that read "What happens in storytime, stays in storytime."

Howard enjoyed “just watching kids explore and seeing the social interaction between kids.” She also enjoyed seeing parents “let loose and realize it’s OK to look silly.”

Sponsors of “Messy Morning” include Central Missouri Association for the Education of Youth, Missouri Child Care Resource and Referral Network, Columbia Public Schools, Daniel Boone Regional Library, Constructive Playthings, Educare Boone County, Jumpstart, Central Missouri Community Action – Head Start, MU Student Nurses and First Chance for Children.

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