Play Learn groups putting new spin on play dates


by CAM JOHNSON / NWCN Morning Anchor

Bio | Email | Follow: @camjohnson1

Posted on October 20, 2009 at 11:46 AM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 19 at 9:50 AM

SEATTLE - Three-year-old Brianna is one lucky girl. When her single-parent dad, Doug Schmidt, is at work, her grandfather Ron Schmidt takes over her care.

It's not how Ron expected to spend his early 60's - as a full-time nanny for his granddaughter, but he enjoys it.

Still, Ron is the first to admit that being a full-time caregiver for a child has its challenges. Like what to do on a rainy day in Seattle with a three-year-old girl?

The Schmidts have found their answer at one of 60 facilitated Play & Learn groups across King County. Their particular group meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the Shoreline Family Support Center.

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For an hour and a half, caregivers and children play, paint, write letters on dry-erase boards, and steer miniature trains. They also learn songs together and dance.

"Play is learning at this age. That's one of the messages we get across," said program manager Tanya Schaeffer.

But parents and caregivers learn, too.

"Hopefully, while they're here, they will see us kneel down on the floor when we're interacting with the kids. We're modeling the best way to interact with children, getting down at their level."

There are a lot of mothers who come with their children to the Play & Learn groups, but also dads, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts and friends. Anyone who is caring for a child is welcome. The group get-togethers are free, and all that is required is that you fill out a short form, providing the county with minimal information.

The Play & Learn groups are very diverse, too. Organized groups are held in 11 different languages around the county. And attendees rave about the experience.

"I can't say enough about what they offer here. Just to have a place to go on a rainy day. I try to take Brianna to the park a lot, but what do you do in the rain?" said Ron Schmidt.

Caregivers also give each other support and advice.

"Sometimes you have to bribe your child with dried pineapple to get them to eat their vegetables, and you worry if you making a horrible mistake. Then you hear the other moms saying, "Oh, don't worry. We bribe our kids too!" said Doug Schmidt.

Reassurance, singing, art, support, fun - it's all in a day's play at King County's Play & Learn groups.