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In this month’s ABC Cayuga article, we meet Nancy Tehan and learn about what is on the horizon for families with young children in Auburn and the surrounding communities.

Q. Tell me about yourself and what you do?

A. Early childhood development is where my passion lies. I am a parent who has learned from experience the importance of the early years, birth to 5, in a person's life. Our first child was born very early and needed support to reach his developmental milestones during those years. With the help of excellent occupational and physical therapy services offered through early intervention, we learned firsthand, day to day, what was evolving in that little mind, body and spirit of our young child. It was through play that we learned how to position his body so he would strengthen his core muscles while sitting and moving. During games and reading aloud, his eyes were tracking objects and then words. He learned to reach across his mid-line to grasp for toys and place them in containers and so much more. It all amazed me! Fast-forward a few years. I am now working as the director of ABC Cayuga Inc., a newly formed 501(c)(3) in Cayuga County. The recently incorporated organization is bringing the community a Play Space! A community place designed for young children to grow and learn together with their trusted adult through play.

Q. How did this all come to be?

A. In 2012, the Allyn Foundation initiated the ABC Cayuga early childhood collaborative under the leadership of Kathy Goldfarb Findling. Kathy's experience and knowledge of community impact work launched the group off to a tremendous start. Its mission is to promote the healthy development and early learning opportunities of children birth to 5 by supporting quality interaction with all who are involved with the lives of our children. Their first group endeavor as ABC Cayuga volunteers was to traverse the county to survey over 500 community members and hold numerous focus groups to identify unmet family needs and parenting concerns for those caring for young children during the important early years in a child's development. It was discovered that parents and grandparents caring for young children in our community feel as though they are parenting on an island. Many reported feeling isolated and disconnected for a number of valid reasons such as transportation, nontraditional work hours and the lack of welcoming places to go with their young children, as well as places for parents and their young children to meet friends, play and learn together about their new roles as parents.

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Q. How did the Play Space idea develop?

A. The ABC Cayuga collaborative looked to what other communities were doing. After more than 20 visits to places throughout the Northeast and discussions at great lengths with community leaders, we discovered the field of emerging children's museums. The Play Space will offer dynamic play based educational experiences designed for young children. We decided to combine the concept of a children's museum and a family resource center together to build the Play Space.

Q. Why play?

A. Why play? Because it's through play that young children learn. Play builds the foundation for a lifetime of learning. It's how young children experience and make sense of the world around them. Exposing young children to a variety of rich play experiences is fun and rewarding. Running, pretending and building are all playful learning experiences in which kids across the world in all kinds of environments find joy. Yet they are problem-solving, working together, practicing trial-and-error and adapting to situations. Think back to when you were a kid. How did you feel when you got caught in a game of tag or had to cope with a falling tower of blocks? In play, children develop a lasting disposition to learn. Having control over the course of one’s own learning, as in free play, promotes desire, motivation, and mastery (Erikson, 1985; Hurwitz, 2003). They learn to have confidence in their ability to solve a problem, and they become resilient in the face of a challenge (Erikson, 1985; Hurwitz, 2003; Pepler and Ross, 1981). Play builds the foundation for a lifetime of learning. Research has also shown us that the social connections created through play reduce stress in both the children and parents. Peer support makes the dual roles as their child's first teacher and leader of a new family more positive, with a less stressful home environment, which leads to better child outcomes. Parents in Cayuga County need more opportunities for themselves and their children to socialize with peers and engage in physical play with their children.

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Katie MacIntyre is a social media consultant and writer for ABC Cayuga, a community group and will definitely need community expertise, input, time, assistance and support in the near future. She also serves as the assistant vice-president — marketing officer for Generations Bank. She serves on the Parent Leadership Team for the state Office of Children and Family Services and is a council member for the National Alliance Parent Partnership Council and one of the original parent leaders who founded Auburn Community Café. She lives in Auburn with her family. For more information, visit abccayuga.org or facebook.com/abccayuga.

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