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Washington Voices

Taking time out for fun at East Central

Thu., March 15, 2012

Parents of young children often feel there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. The demands of work and home can squeeze out time for fun. But a new program at the East Central Community Center offers parents and caregivers an opportunity to enjoy what kids do best – play.

On Monday evenings, the center hosts the Play and Learn program. “Parents learn about child development and how to help their kids learn through play,” said community center acting director Kathy Armstrong. “The children learn math and literacy skills as well as social skills, while having fun playing with their parents.”

The program, for children up to age 5, is free thanks to a Neighborhoods Matter grant. Public health nurse Peggy Slider supervises the fun and is on hand to answer any questions parents may have.

“This isn’t a parenting class,” Slider said. There are no lectures or quizzes. Instead, she said, “Parents are learning what is age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate for kids, as well as appropriate parenting expectations, all in the context of play.”

Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo, once said, “Play is the work of children. It’s very serious stuff.”

And on a recent Monday at the community center, several kids were hard at “work.”

Five-year-old Sophia Godat and her brother Xavier Godat, 20 months, busily affixed fish to laminated aquarium pictures. “Blue!” enthused Xavier as he placed a fish on an already crowded picture. “Blue!”

Their mom, Susie Godat, sat on the floor with them. “That’s a red fish,” she said. “Can you say red?”

“Blue!” insisted Xavier.

Meanwhile, Sophia arranged her fish in neat rows, sorted by color. “I like them organized,” she said.

This evening, the focus was on manipulative play. Puzzles and sorting toys were strewn across the room, ready to help little fingers develop fine motor skills.

At other times the focus is on creative play with puppets and crayons, or sensory play with colored rice in tubs for eager fingers to dabble in and sift. Slider brings the toys and sets out parenting literature on a nearby table.

“Parents playing with their kids – what could be more fun than that?” she asked.

Tusconi Dixon, 23 months, knelt next to Sophia and watched her arrange a group of baby dolls in a neat row. Her aunt, Shannon Dixon, had brought her to the Play and Learn group. Tusconi beamed when Sophia offered her a doll, but soon tossed it aside when she discovered a shiny yellow car. She giggled and raced it across the floor to her aunt.

Sophia, however, stayed focused on the dolls. She selected one and picked it up. “This one’s my favorite because it has chubby cheeks like Xavier,” she said. “I love chubby cheeks.”

When Sophia starts kindergarten next fall, she may already have an advantage. “An increasing body of research shows that having play groups increases a child’s school readiness,” Slider said.

There are only two rules for parents at the Play and Learn program. Rule No. 1: Stay with your children. Rule No. 2: Have fun.

It quickly became apparent that rule No. 2 wasn’t a challenge for the adults or the kids. Xavier sorted through a toy doctor kit and enthusiastically administered an injection to his mom. Godat smiled and said, “As a parent, how often do you get an hour just to play with your kids?”

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