The Flathead chapter of the Montana Association for the Education of Young Children is holding a free event in Kalispell’s Depot Park on April 17 from 1 to 4 p.m. to celebrate the youngest boys and girls in the Flathead Valley along with their providers, educators and families.
Saturday’s event is part of the 50th annual Week of the Young Child, a nationwide program intended to both honor and draw attention to the importance of educating and nurturing children in their earliest years.
In Depot Park, kids will have the opportunity to participate in a number of different activities, including a scavenger hunt, story walk and “bubbles galore.” Free goodie bags will be passed out and raffle prizes from a number of local businesses will be given away.
In addition to the festivities in Depot Park, a number of Main Street businesses are also participating, with artwork from local kids on display in storefront windows, sidewalk chalking encouraged and car seat checks performed near Nature Baby Outfitter. And KALICO Art Center will offer kids the opportunity to create a pinch pot and plant a sunflower between 2 and 4 p.m.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) supports Week of the Young Child events throughout the country, most of which are returning after 2020 festivities were canceled by the coronavirus pandemic. The NAEYC calls the annual event “a time to plan how we — as citizens of a community, of a state, and of a nation — will better meet the needs of all young children and their families.”
That charge has taken on added importance in the last year as nationwide gaps in childcare, especially affordable childcare, were made more prominent as schools and daycares shut down for safety reasons. In Montana, a study released in October revealed that more than 50% of parents in the state called finding affordable childcare a “challenge” and a senior economist at the Montana Department of Labor and Industry estimated more than 20,000 Montana parents are still unable to return to the workforce because of a lack of childcare. One study put the average cost infant care for a single girl or boy at $12,750 a year in Montana.
The NAEYC, along with its state and local affiliates, is also shining a light on the plight of childcare providers, with facilities struggling to hire or retain staff due to challenging work conditions and a lack of pay. The Montana Budget and Policy Center reports that more than 15% of the state’s childcare workforce, which is made up overwhelmingly of women, reports an income below the federal poverty level.