When the weather turns chilly and wet ––as it often does in fall and winter on the Key Peninsula ––parents often yearn for a safe, warm, dry place for their young children to play.
The Indoor Park at the Family Resource Center meets those needs to a T.
Tami Miller-Bigelow, a family advocate with the Children’s Home Society Key Peninsula Family Resource Center, has been in charge of the Key Peninsula Civic Center-based Indoor Park for about eight years.
She first learned about the Indoor Park when she was a young mother with a 3-year old. Since then, all her children played there and now her 16-month-old granddaughter comes regularly.
Now Miller-Bigelow serves as the official welcoming committee to Indoor Park and also answers questions and helps connect parents to community resources they might need.
Indoor Park follows the Peninsula School District schedule, Miller-Bigelow said. “We run it Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 9:30-11:30 and everyone is welcome,”she said.
She said it’s a good social thing for parents and kids.
“Sometimes parents of small children feel kind of isolated out here and this is a way they can meet other parents and their kids can meet other kids that they will probably be going to kindergarten with,” she said.
Indoor Park welcomes all children from birth through age five.
“Once the kids are old enough to go to kindergarten they leave the Indoor Park program because the toys aren’t appealing for older kids and they get bored,”she said.
But then they can join other Children’s Home Society programs for older kids such as Little Buddies or Little Toasters, she added.
The “rules”at Indoor Park are simple: “Parents can come for five minutes or 30 minutes or two hours or however long they want to stay,”Miller-Bigelow said.
“We have balls and slides and bikes and other toys that kids like to play with. Parents can play with their kids or just sit and watch their kids play but they can’t just drop them off. It’s not daycare,” she said.
CHS asks for a $1 donation to use the Indoor Park, but it’s not mandatory, she said.
“Last year we had more than 200 different kids and more than 100 parents that came to Indoor Park. The parents are really great. I just sort of oversee everything and the parents are good about watching their kids. We seldom have any problems,”Miller-Bigelow said.
There’s also a resource table in the room filled with information about other CHS programs and community resources such as the Holiday Helper program that provides help with utility assistance and other things, she said.
Cathy Mauerman often brings her child to the Indoor Park. “I come here because my child needs interaction with other kids during the day. It’s very inviting and there are lots of toys and different activities. It’s different every week so it’s a way to meet other parents,”Mauerman said.
Jud Morris, Key Peninsula Family Resource Center director, recalled that at first, there was no staff person at Indoor Park. “We just took the toys out and put them around and left,”he said.
“I realized it was very important to have a staff person present to show our commitment to the program and Tami wanted to do it and has the ability to do it so she was a natural.”
Over the past 10 years Indoor Park grown and thrived under Miller-Bigelow’s supervision. “The parents like Tami and the kids get very involved and they really enjoy being with her,”Morris said.
Indoor Park serves the Key Peninsula community in three ways, he added.
“It’s a program that gives children a chance to play with other children. It’s a way that parents can play with other children especially during bad weather and it gives parents a chance to network and talk with other parents about what’s going on in their lives. And at the same time, it assures them that their kids are in a safe, warm, fun environment,”Morris said. “We know it’s important and that it’s really working because at our fundraising events, we’ve had many parents tell us that the way they got involved with us in the first place was through Indoor Park.”
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