By Samantha Stauch*
Sonia Goltz of Houghton and 2-year-old grandson Brant Northey enjoy some sliding. (Photos © 2010 and courtesy Samantha Stauch)
HOUGHTON -- Each Wednesday during the summer at the Centennial School playground families gather for the Playtime in the Park program. As parents visit among themselves children clamor up a giant caterpillar -- grinning once they are sitting atop it. The children seem to be full of smiles and laughter as they play. All present seem to enjoy being outside on such a beautiful summer morning. The cool breeze is a great comfort after all the heat this area has been experiencing.
Playtime in the Park is a free community program provided for children under age four by the Keweenaw Family Resource Center (KFRC). The Playtime in the Park program runs from 10 a.m. to noon every Wednesday from June to September. Each Playtime in the Park offers time for free play, an organized activity and a snack. It gives parents and children an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and provides time for socializing.
Brent Gaff does some gardening for today’s Playtime in the Park activity.
"It is playtime for parents and kids," said Connie Gaff of Houghton. "You never threaten them with (taking away as a punishment) playgroup. You say, 'Oh well you can’t watch that movie later,' because you want to go too."
KFRC Executive Director Catherine Benda and her staff are pleased to see how the program has developed.
"When the program began," Benda said, "the expectation was that only people from the area would come to the playtime in their area. . .but we have an entourage of parents that make that Wednesday their weekly outing day and move from park to park each week."
For Kathy McLean of Houghton and Marie Ross of Hancock, this is a family get-together. They brought their grandchildren, 7-year-old Maddie and 3-year-old Dominic. Cindy McLean, the children's aunt, comes along to help keep an eye on them.
Dominic enjoys keeping his balance at the Centennial School playground.
"We enjoy coming together and we go to lunch after," commented Ross. "It’s great for socialization with other kids as well."
For today’s snack Hancock’s Virginia Monroe brought finger Jell-O. Monroe did not bring any children to the group, but she did bring her love and admiration for the program. Monroe started volunteering for the program about 12 years ago when her daughter, Judy Harkonen, current KFRC board president, encouraged her to do so.
"My daughter…grabbed me and said, 'Do something,'" said Monroe.
So she does, by bringing a snack for the children that come to enjoy Playtime in the Park. Monroe said she loves having the opportunity to watch the children grow up. Once the snack was brought out, the children rushed from the playground to the picnic area -- eager to enjoy the goodies. Many of them were jiggling and poking at their snack -- laughing and smiling as they enjoyed the unique traits of a special snack.
It's snack time for, from left, Brent , his sister Katie and their cousins Tori and Ally, who enjoy a snack of cheese crackers and finger Jell-O.
Each week about 30 children participate in the Playtime in the Park program with about 50 families registered. Parents say it is easy to see how this program benefits the community and they appreciate what it provides for them.
"(It) provides opportunities for gross motor play, gets parents and kids outside, (and) it allows for children to socialize. It also links parents to other parents, and friendships are formed. It provides opportunities for parents to connect with other community programs," said Benda.
Benda added that the children and parents leave playtime with something very valuable -- friends.
The following are the upcoming dates and locations of Playtime in the Park:
Aug. 18 -- Centennial School Playground
Aug. 25 -- Hancock Beach
Sept. 1, 15 and 29 -- Lake Linden
Sept. 8 and 22 -- West Houghton Park
To participate in Playtime in the Park you can register upon arrival or through an online form that you can bring to the park. To find out more information about Playtime in the Park or any of the other KFRC programs, visit the KFRC Website.
*Editor's Note: Guest reporter Samantha Stauch wrote this article for David Clanaugh's summer journalism class at Michigan Tech University. This is Samantha's second article on Keweenaw Now. See also her July 28 article, "Portage Library Summer Reading Program: More than just a good read."