GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Let's face it. Toys can be expensive, especially if you're trying to keep up with the ever-changing stages of your infant or toddler. That's where a toy lending library can come in handy.
The Early Years Network, a division of the Mississippi State Extension Service, operates a toy lending library in Gulfport, tucked in the Jeff Davis Campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
There you'll find boxes filled with musical instruments, colorful blocks, shelves packed with books, and a variety of games. Literally thousands of items are available for parents and childcare providers to check out.
Mandy Smith helps operate the Resource and Referral Center where the library is housed. She thinks one of the biggest benefits of the library, is what it can offer childcare providers.
"Because we're always encouraging the providers to rotate their materials out so the children don't get bored. So kind of gives them that service of materials they can come and check out for free, without having to go out and buy it."
It's a great benefit for parents, too. Any of the learning tools can be checked out for two weeks at a time, at no cost. The only thing you have to do is fill out a little paperwork.
"Anybody is welcome to come in," says Smith. "We have just a little form for them to fill out so we can keep track, kind of like a library."
With free access to all these materials, parents and childcare providers have more opportunities to promote quality early learning, which is essential to helping children prepare for kindergarten.
As Smith explains, "By playing with the different things - the toys, the books, the puppets - they're able to explore these materials and get very hands on interaction. And that gets them ready for the next stage of life."
And if you're feeling creative, there's even a dye cut center, where you can cut just about any shape you need for a bulletin board or home project.
"Providers can bring in their own paper. That's a service we provide. They can come in and cut things out."
A little something for everyone. That's what you'll find at the toy lending library in Gulfport. The biggest challenge is letting parents and providers know it's there. If you want to visit, just look for the Resource and Referral Center in the Physical Education building across from the pool on the Jeff Davis Campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. You can also call (228) 897-3851. The center also helps new parents find quality childcare providers in the area.
If you'd like to learn more about the Early Years Network, just click here.