Josh Plum and his daughter Jovie enjoy some play time at First 5’s Peapod Program while little friend Bo Tanner scoots around in the background. (Photo courtesy First 5)
First 5 Peapod Program works hard to gets kids off to the right start
By St. Marie
A toddler tent in primary colors sits on a squishy rabbit mat next to two ocean blue rugs with bright red and green fish swimming along. On top of those, a rainbow tunnel, a slide, blocks and cups for stacking as well as a pint-sized alligator seesaw are ready to be played with.
Today, three boys will take that challenge, finding new ways to use the slide, blocks and a few cars. They drape over the slide on their tummies, one at a time, and stack the cars and block on each other’s backs, trying not to let them fall. And they inevitably do, with a loud crash, and then it’s the next one’s turn.
All of this creative play takes place at the Ida Lynn Community Center in Benton, but the fun can be found at several locations throughout the county once a week.
The Peapod Program, as it is called, is part of First 5 Mono County.
Originally named the Mono County Children and Families First Commission, First 5 is following the Proposition 10 statute to focus on the age group, 0-5; thus the first 5 years of life.
“Proposition 10 was designed to address the lack of public funding and support for early childhood development in the wake of a growing body of scientific evidence indicating that children’s emotional, physical, social and developmental environments have a profound impact on their ability to reach their greatest potential in school and to become productive members of society,” explained Molly Desbaillets, First 5’s Readiness Coordinator.
First 5 programs include Peapod as well as other programs for new babies, oral health and school readiness.
Peapod was started with a new grant from the Mental Health Services Act Innovation Fund. With this, First 5 was able to purchase brand new play equipment and hire playgroup leaders for the Peapod Program. And while the grant ends in March 2012, First 5 is determined to continue the program. Currently, Peapod can be found in Walker/Coleville, Bridgeport, Lee Vining, Benton and Mammoth for both English and Spanish speakers.
In Benton, Peapod provides a place for kids to get together and spend some time with other’s their age. At today’s playgroup, the three boys are content with the small group, but at times there have been as many as seven kids altogether. Two of the boys are cousins, one of which is my son who just turned five, his cousin is four and the other boy there, Riley, is almost two. Despite the age difference, the boys are happy playing together.
Eleana Childs is the Peapod leader here. As a credentialed teacher, she is used to teaching high school students but her experience with her own five children is perfect for this group. She directs the play when needed, helping the younger boy with a puzzle and showing the older boys how to gently ride the alligator without ejecting each other onto the floor (though they would love for that to happen). On some days Peapod may do group activities such as singing or arts and crafts and on other days they may have guest speakers for the parents.
Riley’s grandmother, Phyllis Fluharty, is excited about the playgroup. She watches her grandson during the week while his parents work in work in Mammoth. The playgroup gives Riley time to interact with other kids, especially since he is an only child.
The Benton Peapod Program serves children in the Chalfant Valley, Hammill and Benton areas, which are more isolated or spread out than other communities in Mono County. That means fewer visits from neighbors and less kids running around the block, which can be isolating not only for kids but their parents or caretakers as well. Thus while the children play at Peapod, the adults can socialize, too.
Keeping the need for parents, especially those with their fist child, in mind, Peapod leaders are also Certified Lactation Educators-Counselors (CLEC).
Childs said that one of the CLEC’s jobs is to support new parents with their first child by being a resource for breastfeeding. Mothers in any area can call to receive a visit or someone else can recommend a mother that might be in need.
“Part of the lactation consulting is about having someone to talk to and a support system for what can be a difficult time for some mothers,“ Childs said. With the Peapod Program and their other programs, First 5 is working to make the most of a child’s first five years of life and have a little fun while doing so.
For information on First 5 programs go to www.monokids.com.