The United Way of Greater Niagara (UWGN) has been an integral supporter and long- standing partner of Niagara University’s early childhood initiatives starting with the Niagara County Early Child Care Quality Improvement Project (Niagara QIP), housed in Niagara University’s Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M. Institute for Civic Engagement. One of the Niagara QIP’s current early childhood initiatives funded by UWGN is “Books, Balls, and Blocks.”

Established in 2017, Books, Balls, and Blocks is a free program for children ages 4 months to 6 years old, comprised of various early learning activity stations in which young children are provided the opportunity to engage in developmentally appropriate play with their parents. Through the program’s many activities, parents learn about interactions that help stimulate their child’s development and gain ideas for how to support their child’s early learning at home.

Books, Balls, and Blocks events are held every Fall and Spring semester in local public libraries in Lockport, Niagara Falls, and North Tonawanda, as well as Niagara University’s Family Literacy Center. Each event involves community partners who provide parents with critical resources and information on child development, health insurance, vision screening, and other services.

Thanks to funding from United Way of Greater Niagara (UWGN), to date over 329 young children and 270 parents in Niagara County have benefited from participating in these unique early childhood outreach events intended to identify children at risk for developmental delays or disabilities. By identifying children as young as possible, effective interventions can begin early and significantly improve outcomes for children and their families.

Several studies cited by the American Academy of Pediatrics estimate that 12 to 16 percent of children in the United States have developmental or behavioral disorders, and less than half of these are detected before children reach kindergarten. Since the advent of Books, Balls, and Blocks, 36 percent of the children who participate in our program have been identified in need of further support and/or services, in which they are successfully connected with local early intervention or other community-based resources.

Developmental screening programs like Books, Balls, and Blocks are critical to the early identification of developmental delays and the provision of early intervention services and treatments that have the capacity to change both short- and long-term developmental trajectories of children who may be experiencing such delays or have a developmental disability.

Through interactions with parents at Books, Balls, and Blocks events, we educate them on the importance of child developmental milestones and early detection of delays. Learning happens as parents, children and other family members interact in a fun and engaging way. Parents leave our Books, Balls, and Blocks events with more confidence in knowing they can support their child’s development and better prepare them for kindergarten.

In addition to the generous support of United Way of Greater Niagara, Niagara University students and community partners are crucial to the success of Books, Balls, and Blocks. Graduate students in our literacy program conduct literacy screenings and our early childhood students facilitate the early learning play-based activity stations. This provides our students with rich experiential learning opportunities to engage with and increase awareness of appropriate child development and the importance of partnering with parents in this process.

Books, Balls, and Blocks events also include a literacy screening for children ages 3 – 6 years old. To date, 130 early literacy screenings have been administered to children who attend our events. Early literacy screenings are used to assess and monitor areas of early literacy development, including literacy identification, word reading, and concepts about print.

We thank the United Way of Greater Niagara for its commitment to improving the lives of children and families in Niagara County. It is because of the UWGN’s financial support that we can continue to offer Books, Balls, and Blocks events and provide opportunities for more children to be screened, have their learning needs identified, and link families to vital support services.

If you have a child between the ages of 4 months and 6 years, join us at one of our upcoming Books, Balls, and Blocks events:


WEDNESDAY — North Tonawanda Public Library, noon to 2 p.m.

OCT. 24 — Niagara Falls Public Library (LaSalle location),  10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

OCT. 26 — Niagara Falls Public Library (Main Street location), 10 a.m. to noon

OCT. 30 — Lockport Public Library, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

These free events are a great way to engage parents and children in our community in play while also providing children with early literacy, developmental, and vision screenings. In addition, fun Halloween themed activities and games, as well as food and refreshments, are provided. Every child who attends will receive a book to take home and costumes are also welcome!


Lynnette Haley O’Stewart, Ph.D., is the director of the Niagara Quality Improvement Project (QIP) at Niagara University. To register for the Books, Balls, and Blocks program, please visit or call 286-8567.


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