Play Space

From left, ABC Cayuga board of directors members Kathleen Cuddy, Kara Georgi with children Eliana and Michael, Katie MacIntyre, Lori Schakow and Nancy Tehan, joined by building owner Grant Kyle, stand inside the former HSBC bank building that will house the nonprofit's Play Space, which it plans to open early next year.

I had the chance to spend some time with Nancy Tehan, the executive director of the new Play Space coming to downtown Auburn in the winter of 2017, to hear a little more about the story behind the project.

Q. The Play Space is coming to fruition after years of community effort. Can you tell me the story of how it developed?

A. For many years, community partners have offered special programs and activities for their families outside of their scheduled hours. The effort it takes to host and consistently offer these doesn't typically match the attendance of families. It was difficult on the staff who would go above and beyond their normal duties and have only a family or two in attendance.

On the other side of the equation, families with young children have hectic schedules that they are not always in control of, right? Illness, child care, sleep schedules and nontraditional work hours, to name a few, make it difficult for families with young children to commit and attend after-school events. But families do want informal learning opportunities with their children, and peers. ABC Cayuga partners have much to offer families so we looked for a way to match the needs to resources.

A committee looked to other communities to learn about how they helped families with young children. Our first visit was to Nonnie Hood Parent Resource Center in Corning. It's a small (3,000-square-foot) space where families go and play with their kids. It was warm and welcoming. Children really enjoy the play opportunities and so do their parents. Activities like finger painting, Play-Doh or art projects using a variety of materials can be challenging to do in the home, but not at Nonnie Hood! It was designed with small hand-washing areas, drying racks, easels and volunteers to offer an extra set of hands.

The committee also had a special visit from Marisa Conner, who authored the book "The Power of PLAY: Designing Early Learning Spaces," and who created three early childhood interactive imaginative exhibit areas within Baltimore public libraries for families and young children to learn, play and read together. Those areas have been wildly successful and incredibly inspiring to our team. With those two spaces in mind, we have built our Cayuga County version in Play Space.

Q. What can caregivers expect when they come to the Play Space?

A. Parents, grandparents and caregivers can expect to be welcomed when they arrive. We want you to enjoy the area that has been carved out of the community just for you! After checking in, placing shoes and outerwear in cubbies you are free to explore and play with the materials within the space.

You and your children are important to us.

Q. As a parent, I appreciate the thought put into making it family-friendly, especially for coats, strollers, diaper-changing? Tell me about that.

A. We want families to stay and play. We expect during your stay a diaper may need to be changed or a drink or snack may be required to refuel. Our design committee has tried to think of your needs to make this an enjoyable place to spend time and play.

How can families incorporate play into daily life at home outside of the Play Space? Be mindful that through play, children learn. Be more playful yourself. All of us played as kids. The joy and silliness come rushing back once you begin again. Make time for play.

Q. There are a lot of fun design elements in the space, can you tell me about them?

A. Three of the areas have been designed to meet specific developmental age groups: infants, non-mobile toddlers and new walkers. It's important to allow them space to explore with their whole bodies and be safe. As you would expect, there are lots of soft surfaces, pull-up bars with mirrors and gross motor activities. Children can't wait to shed the winter clothing and get moving, whatever their age.

Kids love imaginative play and there will be numerous opportunities to do just that. In the grocery store, you can make a shopping list, select your items, weigh them, place them in the cart and go through self-checkout or put on an apron and be the cashier. The boat is a favorite of mine. I expect one week you'll see a pirate ship and the next a sail boat. Whatever the day brings, we can go with it.

Between cooking up a feast in the cafe or building a city with blocks, don't leave without enjoying the art area. But you can come back again — we are right here in your neighborhood.

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Katie MacIntyre is the assistant vice-president/marketing officer for Generations Bank. She is a social media contributor for ABC Cayuga and serves on the board of directors for its forthcoming Play Space. She lives in Auburn with her husband and is the proud mama to two boys, ages 5 and 2. For more information, visit abccayuga.org or facebook.com/abccayuga.



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