BANGOR, Maine — Coloring, reading and sticking one’s hands into finger paint might seem like nothing but fun to a young child, but those kinds of activities are important in helping stimulate brain activity at a key age of development.

Penquis, a local social service agency, and several other local organizations are hoping to get that message across during a special celebration of kids, the Week of the Young Child, which opened Sunday with a children’s fair at the Airport Mall.

The Week of the Young Child features some planned events open to the public and other activities parents can do at home with children, all with the goal of getting kids excited about learning and eventually prepared to be a part of the future job force.

“Young children are a priority,” said Eileen McAvoy, the division manager of the Penquis Child Care Resource Development Center. “They’re our greatest resource. They’re our future work force. Maine is the oldest state in the country, so we can’t afford for all these children to not be productive.”

McAvoy said this is the first year the event has been held in the Bangor area, but has been held across the country since 1971 by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

“We did a small art activity last year, but this year we got a committee together,” McAvoy said. “This is our first year to put on a big event like this, and we’re really excited about it.”

The Week of the Young Child falls during Autism Awareness Month and Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month, McAvoy added.

The target age group for young children is birth through 8 years old, but 11-year-old Grace Perron had fun Sunday during the fair at a station where she dipped her hands into paint and pressed her hands onto paper to create prints.

Grace, who lives in Bangor, attended the fair with her mother, father and younger brothers.

“It’s important so when [children] get older they’ll go to school and learn a lot,” Grace said of the Week of the Young Child and the brain-stimulating activities available this week for children.

Each day of the week has a theme, from keeping kids safe to health and nutrition. Maine first lady Karen Baldacci is scheduled Friday to read a story to children at the Eastern Maine Community College Child Development Center.

Activities such as reading, painting and even talking to a child can help with developing young learners, McAvoy said.

“We know, and the research proves, that the majority of their brain development happens before the child turns 5,” she said. “We need to get to those children as young as possible, get them as many resources as we can. That brain is developing so fast and we can’t afford to waste any time.”

Other community organizations involved in Week of the Young Child include Bangor Region Health and Wellness, the University of Maine and EMCC early childhood programs, Bangor Region Health and Wellness, The Warren Center for Communication and Learning, Penobscot Community Health Center, United Way of Eastern Maine, Bangor Public Library and the Maine Discovery Museum.

Other Week of the Child activities (all events are free):

· Tuesday, April 13: Open House at Bangor Central Fire Station and Brewer Public Safety Building

· Wednesday, April 12: Healthful nutrition and exercise activities with children by Bangor Region Health and Wellness staff at the Bangor Public Library Story Hours at 9:15 and 10 a.m.

· Saturday, April 17: “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Maine Discovery Museum, Bangor; Flannery Brothers concert, 2-3 p.m., Bangor Public Library.