MANKATO — If you want to know how a baby's heart works, just ask Dr. Jason DeWitt, medical director of women and children's services at Mayo Clinic Health System — Mankato. 

DeWitt was on hand, along with dozens of other professionals, to give advice to families Saturday at the annual Baby & Kids Expo inside the Verizon Wireless Center.

"We want it to be engaging," DeWitt said. "We want the kids to be able to get their hands involved, literally, and get them connected with health care in a positive manner. So many times, kids especially, their one memory is to have a shot, so we wanted to have a little bit better connection with their health."

Children were able to explore how a heart beats and discover more parts of the human body at MCHS's interactive display, while parents got advice, brochures and even a few freebies.

That's the biggest reason why the Baby & Kids Expo has become a staple within the Mankato community, according to owner and organizer Kaaren Grabianowski.

"It's a fun day out for the families," Grabianowski said. "There's a lot of great information here and then there's a lot of great activities for the kids."

Grabianowski started the expo nine years ago to connect area families with nonprofits and businesses geared toward children.

"Greater Mankato has a lot to offer families, so this is kind of a great place to gather information that they might not know about in our community," she said.

This year's expo had plenty of emphasis on healthy eating and fitness, according to Grabianowski. Various activities and performances included lots of exercise activities for children.

More than 2,000 people attended this year's Baby & Kids Expo, based on families who preregistered for certain parts of the expo, according to Grabianowski.

That included Cindy Marks, who brought her 2-year-old daughter Olivia.

"We went last year and we enjoyed it," she said.

Marks gave birth to twins, Eleanor and Kason, on Jan. 25, so she was also checking out what the expo had to offer newborns.

More than 50 exhibitors were on hand for the expo, ranging from MCHS to baby clothiers, as well as activities from the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota and a performance by popular kids band Koo Koo Kanga Roo.

Barbara Palmer took her children, Anita, 2, and MJ, 1, to the expo for the first time on Saturday. Based on what she saw, she was thrilled the expo was available.

"I like it," she said. "It seems like they have a lot of information here."

Though the ninth expo has wrapped up, Grabianowski is already planning for the expo's 10th anniversary next year.

"I've got a few ideas," she said.

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