A sign next to a newly painted hopscotch court on a sidewalk at Winston Park in Girard encourages adults to “get up and move with your child” by tossing a small rock onto one of the squares, then hopping over it.
Sabrina Murphy was happy to do so with her three children on a picture-perfect morning June 2; they were among the first to use the colorful sidewalk suggestions — part of the park’s Born Learning Trail — after a ribbon cutting a few minutes earlier made it official.
It was the third such trail to open in the Four States as a partnership of Live Well Crawford County, United Way Success by 6 through United Way of Southwest Missouri & Southeast Kansas, and area municipalities and foundations.
“The color is so vibrant, it really attracts your eye, and then when you read the signs, it inspires you to do things you might not have thought of otherwise,” Sabrina said before helping her youngest, Ellie, 3, to navigate the hopscotch board. “We love this park anyway, but this really made it more friendly for families and kids because it gives us something to do together.”
That’s exactly what those who spearheaded the project had in mind.
"The Born Learning Trail turns a regular outing with a child into a fun learning opportunity,” said Coordinator Emma Frogge, noting that each trail helps build language and thinking skills that are fundamental to a child’s success in school and in life. The first six years are when the most brain development occurs.
“Listen to the birds,” says a sign installed along the trail by City of Girard employees. “What are they saying? Can you sing like them?”
Nearby, colorful birds and music notes painted by Girard High School art students cover the sidewalk.
Last summer, similar trails opened at Schlanger Park in Pittsburg and at Wildcat Glades in Joplin. Another is on tap to open in Baxter Springs. The official trail opening at Girard drew a large crowd of children and their caregivers, with many, like the Murphy family, spending the morning trying it out.
Children ages birth to 6 each received a free book to take home.
United Way Director Duane Dreiling said any community may request such a trail.
“We’re happy to work with anyone who would want to pursue putting one of these in,” he said.
Live Well Chair Martha Murphy said it was a perfect partnership for the organization.
"These trails encourage families to be active together, and that's what we're all about," she said. "That's what we want to see more of."