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Born Learning Trail is more than just a walk in the park

June 25, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Laura Phillips of "A Face in the Crowd" face-painting paints the arm of Heaven Carroll, 3, of Hagerstown, during the opening of the Born Learning Trail on Saturday.
By Chris Tilley/Staff Photographer

Pigs do fly — at least in the imaginative world of Shana Carter.

They also sing and dance and love to wear jewelry.

Walking through Wheaton Park Saturday morning, the 4-year-old entertained family members with a unique imitation of her favorite animal.

But, within minutes, she had moved on to another activity — finding something on the ground shaped like a circle.

Kila Carter said she wants to make sure her child starts her education on the right foot.

That's why she's pleased that a visit to the park can become a learning experience.

The Carters were among the first visitors to the newly installed Born Learning Trail at Wheaton Park.

The opening-day celebration included a ribbon-cutting ceremony, family activities and giveaways.

Born Learning is a national United Way campaign aimed at helping parents, caregivers and communities create early learning opportunities.

One way is through a trail that features instructional signs intended to stimulate creativity, language and social interaction through fun and games.

"It's about raising awareness of the importance of learning among pre-K children," said Jenny Fleming, community impact director for United Way of Washington County.

"Adults are children's first teachers," she said. "And research tells us that children are literally born learning. The first five years of education are important before they even enter school."

Fleming said it's a goal of United Way to help adults see the variety of ways they can expand upon education, even in everyday activities.

"By talking, playing games or telling stories, adults can help build the skills necessary for a good start in school," she said. "You don't have to buy expensive toys. Interaction is the key."

Fleming said this is the third Born Learning Trail that has been installed in Hagerstown. In addition to Wheaton Park, trails exist at Staley Park and Pangborn Park.

"The national campaign says you can be creative in where you place trails," she said. "Locally, we decided to start with city parks."

Washington County is the first county in Maryland to provide Born Learning Trails, she noted.

Fleming said the City of Hagerstown "has been a phenomenal partner in the project. It's a win-win situation. We place the trails and there is an enhancement to the area parks."

Materials for the trails were possible through a grant from PNC Bank, Fleming said. The asphalt pathway was provided by Antietam Paving, which donated its services.

Fleming said some of the activities along the pathway foster literacy skills, while others teach science and math.

"Look! Listen! Touch! Think!" encourages exploration of nature, such as finding a flower, touching it and talking about it.

"Imagine! Create! Pretend!" turns any object into a story.

There also are stencils on the trail for children to play on, including a hopscotch with numbers and ABCs.

Eloise Plank of Hagerstown attended the opening of the Wheaton Park trail with her grandson, Tysavien Duckfield, 6, and her daughter, Kim Duckfield.

"I'm very impressed," Plank said. "This is a wonderful and fun way to help children learn."

Plank said the family had read a notice about the opening of the trail and decided to see what it was all about.

"My grandson is an avid learner and very bright," she said. "This is perfect for him."

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