Children learn baseball skills in Start Smart
Taylor McAtee slowly lined her bat up with the baseball sitting atop the batting tee. Only holding it there a few seconds, the 4-year-old pulled her bat back and swung, managing to hit the ball a few feet off the tee.
Learning how to hit the ball was only one skill Taylor practiced Sunday afternoon during Start Smart, a baseball instruction clinic for 3 to 5 year olds sponsored by the Baldwin City Recreation Commission.
Taylor, and 12 other 3 to 5 year olds, will participate in Start Smart five Sundays working on baseball fundamentals -- batting, throwing, catching and running.
Maggie Brown, Start Smart instructor, said the national instructional program is a way to prepare children for tee ball.
"What they found is 70 percent of the kids, when they start tee ball, aren't fundamentally prepared and the coaches end up having to spend a lot of time on the basics," Brown said. "The kids that have gone through Start Smart, when the coaches get them, they've got the basics down."
Each week, the participants are broken into groups and, with the help of their parents and instructors, spend time at each station practicing fundamentals.
The children don't use real baseball equipment, instead using soft bats, foam balls and Koosh balls. Brown said the special equipment helps build the children's confidence.
"They work real well for the kids," she said. "The kids realize if they get hit, it doesn't hurt."
The children were tested on their fundamentals at the beginning of the program, she said, and will be re-tested at the end.
"It will show parents just how much their kids progressed," she said.
One of the things that makes the program successful, Brown said, is parent involvement.
"Start Smart wants to promote child and parent learning together," she said. "They need to see the parents as teachers, as well as the instructors.
"It's also just a really fun time for a parent and a kid."
Travis Shoemaker is just one of the many parents helping their children with their athletic skills. He said his 3-year-old daughter, Jordyn, had already showed an interest in baseball, so he thought Start Smart would be a good way to get her started.
"I know she'll want to play," Shoemaker said.
Tricia McAtee said her daughter Taylor has also been excited since they started the program.
"All day long she was like, 'Is it time for tee ball, is it time for tee ball?'" McAtee said. "She's enjoyed it a lot."
Brown said other family members have also gotten excited about Start Smart.
"Every week we get more grandparents and more sisters and brothers come out," she said. "It's just a good, family environment."