COUDERSPORT — In effort to promote available early childhood programs, supports and community resources, the Potter County Early Childhood Team is planning the inaugural Potter County Early Childhood Expo for families with children birth to kindergarten entry.

The Potter County Early Childhood Expo, sponsored by JKLM Energy, will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 8 at the Coudersport Elementary School at 802 Vine St.

The event is free and open to the public.

Organizers said event highlights will include free books and games and door prize giveaways, including Kindles and amusement park tickets. There will also be story-time, preschool science activities, make and take crafts, and fun games and activities to promote fine motor and gross motor skills. A visit from Smokey Bear, snacks and lunch will also be included.

Children will have the opportunity to receive speech/language, vision, dental and other developmental screenings. Information and demonstrations on child development and early learning will also be offered and registration for early learning programs and services will be available, organizers said.

Team member and Potter County Commissioner Doug Morley said that part of his role is to leverage and support services to assist the citizens of Potter County. Morley said early learning is such an important issue and stressed that “all citizens play an important role in the development of children.

“That is why this expo is so critical,” Morley said. “It puts all of the experts in the same room; parents, grandparents, educators and child-serving agencies.”

A recent U.S. Department of Education Report finds that 6 out of 10 children are unprepared for kindergarten. Meanwhile, the 2016 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) results indicate that 45 percent of third grade students in Pennsylvania are not proficient in mathematics and 39 percent are not proficient in reading/language. Officials said that research clearly demonstrates participation in early childhood programs has a significant and lasting impact on social, literacy, language and math skills, yet more than 50 percent of children in Potter County are missing out on free publicly-funded early learning programs.

Dr. Marlene Wust-Smith, a pediatrician with Cole Memorial Hospital in Coudersport, notes that she had the honor of collaborating with Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a pediatrician from Boston known as the grandfather of developmental pediatrics. Quoting Brazelton, Wust-Smith notes, “Early childhood is both the most critical and the most vulnerable time in any child’s development … in the first few years, the ingredients for intellectual, emotional, and moral growth are laid down. We cannot fail children in these early years.”

Wust-Smith said it’s important for children to have access to early childhood education and positive experiences for their brains to grow and mature both intellectually and emotionally to their greatest potential.

For his part, Bob Esch, vice president of external affairs at American Refining Group in Bradford and a member of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission, said “the importance of the first five years of a child’s development is well documented in research. Children that fall behind during these years are likely to remain behind. Investing in a child’s first five years will improve the skills of our workforce, reduce the number of individuals living in poverty and strengthen our position in the world.”

To participate as a vendor or learn more about the event, call (814) 274-4877.