Opportunities for Families to Connect

Local playtimes offer respite to families seeking interaction and community.


It’s not easy to be a parent. Being a parent in a rural community brings its own set of additional challenges.

“It is a daycare desert,” said Madison Johnson, mother of a baby and a 3-year-old, who lives in Lake Holiday and teaches full-time at Shelton High School. She felt lucky to find someone in the neighborhood to care for her children. Her husband, who has a four-day work week, runs “daddy daycare” on Fridays.

Shantell Small, parent of a 3- and 8-year-old, and relatively new to the Key Peninsula, said that isolation due to Covid made it difficult to connect with other families. She is a stay-at-home mom and said that finding good early childhood educational programs was difficult. The programs offered through the Peninsula School District are limited to low-income families or for children with special needs.

Although there are no quick fixes to the childcare situation — parents find themselves networking with friends and via Facebook groups to find caregivers who can come to them or in-home settings that may be more akin to babysitting than educational experiences — there are programs on the Key Peninsula that offer support to families with young children and opportunities for connection.

Family Connects and Baby Lounge

For those with babies, Family Connects and Baby Lounge, part of the Pierce County Early Childhood Network, help with information and resources. Emily Poncik coordinates both. She recently moved to Port Orchard from Austin, has a toddler herself, and empathizes with the challenges of rural parenthood.

Family Connects launched a pilot in March 2021 after more than two years of planning. Every woman giving birth at Tacoma General or St. Joseph Medical Center who lives in the target zip codes is asked if she would like a visit from a nurse three weeks after delivery. The visit can be via video, phone or in-person, and the nurse addresses physical and social needs and makes referrals and can schedule additional visits if needed. The time between birth and the standard six-week newborn visit can be especially fraught, Poncik said, and there is evidence that this simple intervention has a real benefit. The program recently hired a nurse who will cover the Key Peninsula. Referrals can come from providers or families themselves via the website.

The Baby Lounge, designed for families and babies from newborn to one year, started meeting in June 2022. Evelyn Patrick, who recently retired as a public health nurse and has years of experience working with young families, facilitates. Food is provided, Patrick can weigh the babies and then, she said. “We talk about all kinds of things, like understanding cues from the baby and when to introduce solids. It is a fun place for moms, dads and babies to get together to meet and socialize,” Patrick said.

The program is open to all and is free of charge. Meetings are monthly on Fridays in the KP Civic Center VFW Room. Preregistration via the website is requested so they can plan for food.

Toddler Indoor Park

The Toddler Indoor Park at the civic center gym re-opened in November on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. after closing in March 2020 due to the pandemic. It’s staffed by the Key Peninsula Family Resource Center, part of Children’s Home Society of Washington. Set up with toddlers through pre-K, families are welcome to drop by for a few minutes or stay for the entire two hours. They have toys, slides, tricycles and PlasmaCars for toddlers. Families have just begun returning, and it offers an opportunity for children and families to connect after two years of relative isolation. “My 2-year-old Covid baby can play with other kids,” said one grandmother.

Relatives Raising Kids

Every third Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m., Lori Mertens, a family navigator at Children’s Home Society, hosts a support group for families raising kids who are not their parents. Families share a potluck meal and childcare is provided.

Key Center Library

Family Story Time meets every Thursday from 10:30 to 11 a.m. Barbie Swayze reads to young children and families. Krisa Bruemmer, who works at the library and is a contributing writer for the Key Peninsula News, has been coming to story time since her now first-grade daughter was a toddler. “Often there would be just a few families,” she said. “Now the room is overflowing, and families linger.”

KP Kids Maker Fun at the library is scheduled every fourth Tuesday from 4 to 4:40 p.m. Kids ranging from three to 12 years old come together to craft science-focused projects.

Key Peninsula Co-op Preschool

The Key Peninsula Cooperative Preschool is a nonprofit affiliated with the Parent Child Preschool Organization, and recently moved to a new location at the Lakebay Community Church. Kimberly Shaw, who has nearly 20 years of experience in early childhood education, is the director and works with one additional staff teacher. Parents also volunteer. They have classes for three age groups. Shaw describes the class for 2-year olds as a “mommy and me” experience. They meet Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 to 11 a.m. On Monday, Wednesday and Fridays the 3- to 4-year-olds meet in the morning and the 4- to 5-year-olds meet in the afternoon.

“The teachers are phenomenal,” said parent Shantell Small. “The parents are involved. It’s a little community.” She loves being part of the co-op, but a full-time preschool in the area, she said, would be a great addition. It could help solve the daycare problem and allow her to think about getting into the job market.