“We hope Playscape will be plumb full of moms and their children,” said Kristin Lasher, as she joined other Mother Mentors volunteers in preparing a new space for the popular Playscape program at the South Whidbey Primary School campus.
Playscape will be open from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Mondays and Fridays in Room B-3 at the former primary school building, located at 5476 Maxwelton Road outside Langley. The grand opening is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 28.
Created in 2009, Playscape is a birth-to-kindergarten “play and learn” program for children and their caregivers. Playscape’s aim is to engage children and caregivers in educational activities that stimulate healthy development and create opportunities for growth and discovery.
The free program, which was originally operated under the umbrella of the South Whidbey Commons, is now under the direction of Mother Mentors of South Whidbey.
Mother Mentors is a grassroots effort to support the needs of families by providing volunteer mentors to families with newborns and young children.
“The Commons contacted our board and asked if we’d like to take over this program,” said Kristin Lasher, founder of Mother Mentors. “They felt managing Playscape would be a better fit for our organization because their focus is really on training young adults.
We couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to take over an already successful program.”
“Playscape has been on hold since last June until we could find someone to take it over and because of a funding shortfall,” said Cathy Rooks, president of the South Whidbey Commons Board. “Mother Mentors is the perfect group to take Playscape forward.”
Mother Mentors raised $12,000 at a fundraiser last spring, and they figure it will take about $15,000 per year to run the Playscape program, factoring in rent and insurance costs.
“We’re looking into grants and we’re hopeful about receiving private donations to keep it going,” said Linda Ade-Ridder, president of the Mother Mentors board.
Ridder feels the Playscape program is a natural adjunct to Mother Mentors’ in-home services providing practical and emotional support to new mothers.
“Playscape is a great alternative to families without other resources to make adult friends and have playdates for their children,” said Ridder.
‘Rainy day savior’
Volunteers spent Saturday, Jan. 12, painting and spiffing up the double classroom, which will serve as Playscape’s new space. Donated toys and play stations draped with drop-cloths dominated the middle of the big room while busy volunteers spackled, painted, cleaned and tidied the airy, carpeted space.
“The idea of Playscape is essentially to provide an indoor park for families with children ages birth to 5,” said Mully Mullally, early childhood education specialist and facilitator of the Playscape program.
“Playscape is a rainy day savior,” said Mullally. “It’s a place for supervised, interactive and engaged play. Parents can meet friends here and create supportive relationships with each other while their children can learn creative activities and have the space and approval to make a mess.”
“It’s not preschool,” Mullally said. “It’s a place for enrichment activities such as making Play-Doh, playing with paints and glue, and gardening. It’s more like a facilitated play date for children and their grownups.”
Mullally spent 40 years as an early childhood education specialist and was a founder of the South Whidbey Children’s Center in Langley, from which she retired in 2006.
“Mully is a fabulous teacher,” said Lasher. “She really has a sense of what’s appropriate and needed with little ones.”
Micki Neal of Freeland dropped by the work party with her 2-year-old daughter Kassidy to see if they could help. Ignoring the busy adults working around her, Kassidy made a beeline for the toys and was immediately engaged in deftly opening latches on a multi-chambered treasure box.
While the Neal family won’t be able to come to Playscape during the week because of Micki’s work schedule, she still sees the value in connecting with others who care for young children.
“I teach in Oak Harbor, but since we live in Freeland, I’m trying to find community down here and playmates for Kassidy,” said Neal.
Mullally sat on the floor to talk to Neal while Kassidy played next to them.
“Last year we averaged 18 to 25 children at each session,” said Mullally. “It’s a clean, safe and warm place to play and such a great opportunity that I think parents will be beating down the doors once Playscape starts up again.”