Under the bright lights of the gym at Washington Early Childhood Center, 2535 Lakin Ave., about 20 young children scoot, crawl, walk and run. They are a busy group, motoring around atop riding toys, tossing balls, climbing play equipment, flattening play dough and intently watching their peers do the same.
Their squeals, shouts, excited chatter and thudding feet resound through the large room. Their mothers are nearby, sometimes playing with them and sometimes talking with other moms while the little ones interact with each other.
Around two dozen children attend in any given month said Parent Educator Rosa Velazco, who conducts the playgroup along with staff from Sunflower Diversified Services’ Early Education Center.
“It gives parents a chance to interact with their kids one on one,” Velazco said. “You also see Hispanic-speaking and English-speaking kids playing together.”
The group is designed for parents with children ages birth to 3 years and is from 9-10:30 a.m. on the third Friday of the month during the school year. An hour of free play is followed by a half hour of crafts and snacks.
The group is part of the nationwide program Parents as Teachers – which also includes home visits by Velazco – funded both federally and locally, said John Popp, director of curriculum and instruction for Great Bend schools USD 428.
“The goal is to help parents understand childhood development and the activities that help most at their age level,” he said. “They can also identify any kids that are developmentally delayed.”
Velazco does about 40 home visits in the Great Bend area monthly with a waiting list of six families. She gathers information about the child, does screenings, provides informational handouts, and teaches parent and child new activities to do together.
“It depends on how old the child is,” she said. “We communicate on how they’re growing.”
Susan Keeler, a speech therapist for Sunflower Diversified Services, said the playgroup is a new environment in which parents can observe their children.
“It offers parents a different setting to see how their child interacts,” she said.
Amanda Degenhardt of Great Bend was at the playgroup Sept. 21 with sons Jake, 2-1/2, and Luke, 9 months. Degenhardt has been attending monthly for a year and a half.
“The kids get to interact with other kids and us parents get to socialize and interact with other parents,” she said. “It’s fun. I’m a stay-at-home mom and I don’t like to sit at home. I like to go and do things with the kids.”
Degenhardt’s sister, Tiffany Heape, also of Great Bend, started coming when she was pregnant. She now brings daughter, Mya Donham, who is 7 months old.
“I like to do the arts and crafts,” Heape said. “And Mya likes to play with the other kids.”
Monica Gonzalez, an early intervention specialist with Sunflower’s Early Education Center, said the group is a great place for children with developmental delays, and children from all cultures.
“Some of our parents are afraid. They have children with some kind of disability and they get to see their kids interact. It’s good for the moms to feel they can be as normal as other kids,” she said. “I also love to have both (Hispanic-speaking and English-speaking) cultures together. It’s definitely a variety of kids.”
For more information on the Parents as Teachers playgroup or about arranging a home visit to learn more about child development, contact Rosa Velazco at 793-1518.