The Great Brain Gain

Two sounds were immediately audible from the reception area: 1) the familiar refrain of “The Wheels on the Bus” and 2) the instantly recognizable hubbub that could only be a throng of tiny children having a great time.

In the Child Development office in downtown Lowell, Massachusetts, babies, toddlers and pre-K kids maneuvered throughout the office space, indulging in a variety of literacy-fueled events: faces were painted, foam shapes were glued and there, in the center of the excitement, Mother Goose, surrounded by children rapt by her singing, reading and nursery rhyme bingo.

The event was part of Lowell’s Read with Me: Brain Building in Progress, a two-week-long marathon of activities designed to promote early childhood brain development and school readiness through literacy engagement. Over 30 local organizations participated as hosts, sponsors or volunteer suppliers.

The Lowell Early Childhood Advisory Council, a collaborative focused on supporting young children and their families in the city of Lowell, helped organizations in engineering their own events. Brain Building in Progress is a joint campaign of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.

“This is a perfect example of diverse community stakeholders coming together for a common purpose,” said Wendy Valentine, Director of Early Education Partnerships for United Way and a member of the Advisory Council. “And what a great purpose! Sparking a love of reading in a young child has such a lasting, positive impact on their

Child Development is a statewide organization that serves over 4,000 children and families; the Lowell branch reaches 375 children, engaging with homecare providers and parents about the value of early education. This constant stream of resources to the family is a critical component of Child Development’s commitment, evidenced by the day’s activity of kids filling bags with books and materials that were homeward

“I hope this happens again,” said Summer Graham, a homecare provider of over 20 years. “We do a lot of reading at our house and kids do so much better in school when they are read to at an early age.”

Graham is quick with an anecdote, too: a child she cared for as a kindergartener who is now in fourth grade, frequently updates her on her scholastic achievements:

“Every report card, she’ll tell me ‘I got straight A’s again!’” Graham recounts.

A few hours later, in the home dugout of the Lowell Spinners, over 30 children were sitting on the edge of their seats, awaiting a very special visitor. And, then, from the dark recesses of LeLacheur Park, a giant, green creature emerged–the Canaligator was in the house.

Jon Boswell, the Director of Media Relations for the Spinners (the Boston Red Sox Class-A short season affiliate), had been reading the children’s book There Goes Ted Williams, but immediately knew he was sunk.

“I just can’t compete with the Canaligator!” he jokes.

The Spinners joined in on the early literacy fun by handing out Spinners paraphernalia, baseball cards and, the main attraction, making their mascot, the Canaligator, available for autographs, high-fives and bear hugs.

The event concluded with the kids being turned loose on the field, sprinting around the bases and racing each other to the warning tracks in the outfield. Breathless and sweaty, the children filed back to the dugout, where United Way’s Wendy Valentine handed out free books to the kids.

“Community involvement is our biggest priority,” Boswell said. “I think taking part in an event like this is a win/win for everyone involved.”