FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Social interaction plays an integral role in a child's development, according to the Fort Rucker School Age Center staff, and the facility offers a free program designed to promote that interaction through play.

Open recreation is offered the first Saturday of every month from noon to 4:30 p.m., said Therese Thurman, supervisory program specialist.

"The facility opens at noon and children are welcomed by staff," she said. "We usually start out gathering in our drama and architecture area, creating LEGO structures and giving the children time to mingle and meet others that they may not know.

"Depending on the weather, we take the children outside for time on our recently renovated playground area," she added. "When we come back in, we give them some time to relax and play video games in our technology center."

According to Thurman, children usually have a snack around 3 p.m. before diving into art.

"Children are then given an opportunity to put their creativity to work in Art4U," she said. "To round out the day, we go into the gym and either shoot hoops or play a round of dodgeball before we close the facility at 4:30 p.m."

The next open recreation afternoon, available to children kindergarten through fifth grade, takes place March 3 and Janice Erdlitz, Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation marketing director, said it is an invaluable experience for children.

"It's all about making memories," she said. "We strive to give our military youth a normal life, to give them the best education and to give them opportunities to enjoy the friendships they make at our CYS facilities.

"After school and open recreation programs provide fun, engaging activities that kids can participate in while building their social skills and making new friends," she added. "They can relate with their peers and discuss their travels, changing schools, new towns and know the person next to them understands where they are coming from. Kids can relax and just be kids -- playing, laughing, make memories that will last a lifetime."

Thurman echoed Erdlitz's sentiment.

"Children need the opportunity to get out and mingle socially with other children that they may not know from school," she said. "This allows them to build relationships with other children that they may eventually meet back up with at other installations in the future.

"Events like open recreation bring the post community closer by offering children the opportunity to get out and interact socially where they may not otherwise," she added. "It also allows parents to take care of much-needed errands."

The school age center also offers Skate Night the third Friday of each month from 6-8 p.m. for $5 per person throughout the school year. A safety skate is available from 5-6 p.m. for those who need to be accompanied by an adult. Cost is $2 per person.

For more information, call 255-9108.