Lois Connington held up two containers. One held powdered candy, while the other contained fertilizer. It was hard to see the difference.
That, of course, was the point of a presentation Connington and Gene Merkl, both with Mississippi State University’s Extension Service, gave on poison safety to kindergartners at Safety Town Monday at the Starkville Sportsplex.
“We talked about how poisons, you might not know what they are, if they aren’t labeled,” Connington said.
Safety Town is a decades-long running program hosted by Junior Auxiliary of Starkville.
Program Co-Chair Caitlyn Rackley said this year’s two-day program, which continues today, is expected to draw about 500 preschool and kindergarten students from all Starkville area public and private schools.
Students learned about a broad range of safety topics, including animal safety from the Humane Society, water safety from a lifeguard at MSU’s Sanderson Center and germ safety from OCH Regional Medical Center representatives.
Starkville’s police and fire departments also participated in the program.
“Pre-K and kindergarten is a really crucial age to learn about things,” Rackley said. “Especially, for me, my child is a pre-k student, and poison control is really important to me. I think it’s a really good opportunity to show her that though these things are nice, pretty colors, they’re not to be played with.
“Also, the police officers over here share with the children when to call 911 and when not to call 911,” she added. “That helps them as well. They’re just starting to learn their numbers, so it’s a good time to go ahead and tell them how to use that responsibly.”
A key part of Safety Town is teaching students at a level they can understand. At the poison safety stop, Merkl and Connington gave students “Mr. Yuck” stickers — with a grimacing green face and a poison control number — for their parents to affix to hazardous materials at home.
Merkl said such lessons are just as important for getting parents to think about safe home environments.
“One of the things that we see when we ask these children questions about where you find poison in the home is most of them don’t know,” Merkl said. “I remember very well when I was growing up, my mom said you don’t play under the sink ever because there’s poison under there.
“The whole point here, I think, is as much about parent education as it is children,” he added. “I think we’re somehow missing the boat on making that connection.”
At another station, students were fitted for bicycle helmets, which were provided by the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services and paid for through a trust fund set up by DUI and moving violation fees.
At the animal safety station, an Oktibbeha County Humane Society volunteer taught students to call animal control if they see stray cats or dogs, and how to approach dogs safely to minimize the chances of being bitten.
Rosie Jackson, a Sudduth Elementary School kindergarten teacher, said she thought it was good for students to be exposed to so many facets of what safety is.
“Everything they learned here, they’re being encouraged to go back and talk about with their parents,” she said. “That’s a great thing. And all the hands-on learning here is for real-life situations so they can learn the value of safety.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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