The 25th Judicial District Courthouse recently installed a place for children to learn and entertain themselves while their parents or caretakers conduct court-related business.

The courthouse’s new early learning station that achieved its final iteration about a week and a half ago is the result of collaboration between the district and Russell Child Development Center.

Court Administrator Kurtis Jacobs said the idea germinated following a meeting between court clerks from around the state who discussed alternative methods in easing courthouse efficiencies. After a suggestion by another clerk, who indicated that kids’ books and a DVD player placed in the lobby helped keep children occupied in a safe environment, the 25th District’s courthouse was decidedly on-board.

Jacobs said the early learning station was part of the overall plan for the courthouse remodeling effort. A remainder of funds left over from that initiative that amounted to “well under $500,” according to Jacobs, went toward the construction of a table and the purchase of a small TV screen.

When it came to the books, Jacobs said someone put him in contact with RCDC, which has a grant-funded program that has in part been dedicated to the installment of early learning stations in various facilities across 18 counties. The program provided the courthouse with rudimentary reading books, coloring books, crayons and other appropriate knickknacks.

“Our clerks have reported that the kids almost immediately go over and sit down and start reading the books or coloring or watching the TV,” Jacobs said, adding that TV viewing opportunities include Thomas the Train, Disney and Bob the Builder. “It’s just been very, very successful. The kids are able to sit down and read or color or watch the TV. Their parents are right there nearby, but they can do their business without being concerned about watching the kids.”

RCDC Coordinator Jeanne Billings said the annual grant, called the Building Blocks Southwest Kansas Grant, funds the project and others like it across the region and was awarded to RCDC by the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund at a total amount of $1.3 million.

Billings said the early learning stations can be installed in any place where a family might do business and where it would be beneficial to have something developmentally appropriate to occupy young children. RCDC serves children from birth to age 5, and materials at the early learning stations are commensurate with that age group.

The stands often also include information for parents and even children to take home, Billings said.

According to Billings, RCDC renewed the annual grant funding for the coming year on July 1. She said funding from 2016 went toward the early learning station at the courthouse and others like it, adding that early learning stations also can be found in Garden City at the Accelacare Physical Therapy offices, Adams Real Estate, the Bors Law Office, Spirit of the Plains CASA Inc., Emmie’s Hair Salon, the Finney County Health Department and many other locations.

Billings said Garden City is one of the largest towns in RCDC’s southwest region, “so we have quite a few around here.”

She said other programs funded through the grant include the Triple P Positive Parenting Program, the Healthy Steps program and the Learn and Play project.

And if a child takes a book from an early learning station, either purposely or by accident, Billings said RCDC simply will replenish the collection.

“They’re not intentionally there to take home, but if a child takes it home, we think that’s fine because that’s just one more book that they have in their home that maybe they didn’t have before,” she said, explaining that every learning station will include books because the Building Blocks grant focuses on early literacy.

Christine Blake, clerk of the 25th District Courthouse, said she was the one initially introduced to the idea of having a children’s space at the courthouse while she was attending a mid-year training conference.

“We’ve only had it for a couple of weeks, and we have had some positive responses,” she said. “We had three or four kids just sitting, watching the little movie that we had on the TV screen just the other day. They were very well behaved.”

Blake said that while children don’t often venture to the courthouse, the early learning station is a “wonderful, positive” thing for when they do come. She said that in her 33 years at the courthouse, she has never seen anything like it on the premises.

“I think it just shows the steps the courts are making to be more user-friendly with our public access, with this for the children,” she said. “We provide customer service right here next to where the children’s station is, so we encourage people if they have a need to come into the court to feel comfortable coming in and bringing their children. They know they’re going to be right there in a safe environment that parents can see them from where they’re at if they come in to ask questions of the court.”