Center offers services and training to parents, child care providers
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Toy trucks loaded with miniature felt apples idle their imaginary engines in an orchard of building-blocks. A toy kitchen beckons tiny chefs to bake felt apple pies. A row of small lab coats hung neatly along the wall invite little visitors to explore why apples float in a bowl full of water.
These are just a few of the apple-themed, hands-on learning opportunities that are engaging children in September at the new Mississippi Child Care Resource and Referral Center in Hattiesburg. The center held its grand opening Sept. 19.
Each learning station in the center offers a play-based, educational activity based on the month’s theme.
Operated through the Mississippi State University Extension Service, the center is part of the Mississippi Child Care Resource and Referral Network, or MSCCRR, which offers various resources for children, child care providers and families.
“Anyone who has children or provides care for children can use this center,” said Judi McSwain, Extension associate at the Hattiesburg MSCCRR. “Everything we offer here is free. We have a lending library full of educational games, books, puzzles, toys and other materials that can be checked out. It works like a library. You check it out for two weeks and then return it.”
The center also provides referrals for teacher training and connects families with child care options and other resource referrals and family support services training. Teachers and child care providers can use the center’s die-cutting machine and laminating equipment to create classroom resources. Bilingual materials are available.
Each month, the center offers at least one community event that is free and open to the public.
In addition to educational materials, staff at the center can help early child care providers and families learn the best ways to teach children through experiential learning activities.
MSU Extension has centers in
- Tupelo at Itawamba Community College
- Merdian at Meridian Community College
- Booneville at Northeast Mississippi Community College
- Decatur at East Central Community College
- Poplarville at Pearl River Community College
- Mendenhall at Copiah-Lincoln Community College
- Summit at Southwest Mississippi Community College
- Jackson at Midtown Partners
Additional centers will open soon in Natchez at Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Gulfport at Willie Locke, Corinth, Vicksburg, D’Iberville and Gluckstadt.
“Our overarching goal with all of our locations is to support early childhood education and have better outcomes for children, their families and education professionals in the area,” said Rebecca McKeehan, MSCCRR area coordinator for south Mississippi. “We focus on sharing play-based teaching methods that help children develop and learn. We can help them help our children with emerging skills and target specific needs.
“For example, we may have a parent come in who says, ‘My child does not want to write.’ We can help them learn ways to make writing more interesting for the child. We can also refer that parent to evaluation services if they have concerns or questions about testing how their child is learning, growing and developing,” she said.
Liz Deucher, who recently moved to Hattiesburg from out of state, said she is excited about the opportunities the center offers her and her 7-month-old daughter.
“I heard about the center at my mom’s club, and I thought this would be a great way to have new, fresh toys for my daughter without having to invest a lot of money on toys that she will only use for a short time,” said Deucher, whose husband is in medical school. “It’s nice to have things for different stages.
“Coming to the center is also a good way to meet people and build community, especially since I’m from out of town,” she said.
That was one of the primary goals MSCCRR Director Louise Davis envisioned for the centers when she opened the first location in North Mississippi in 2005.
“Our centers are more community-bound than other similar centers across the country,” said Davis, who is also an Extension professor of children and parenting in the MSU School of Human Sciences. “I really wanted these centers to be a resource in the community and have the ability to help families and child care providers with all of the services that they need.”
Another important goal was to help build family engagement.
“Early childhood learning is so important, and it begins at home. Parents are a child’s first teachers. We want to help parents learn the best ways to interact with and teach their children all these foundational skills that will help them succeed later. It’s why we’re here, and it’s why we do what we do,” Davis said.
The Hattiesburg MSCCRR is located at 6068 U.S. Highway 49. It is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and every second and fourth Saturday 9 a.m. to noon.
Currently, MSCCRR operates 11 centers in north, central and south Mississippi. A total of 30 centers will be open across the three regions by December 2024. Hours of operation vary by location. For more information about the centers, visit the Extension website at https://tinyurl.com/2zwvydyd.
The MSCCRR is operated in partnership with the Mississippi Department of Human Services.