By Wendy Brown, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public AffairsJanuary 9, 2020
SAGAMIHARA FAMILY HOUSING AREA, Japan (Jan. 9, 2020) -- The only time 10-month-old Axel Ramos paused during the New Parent Support Program Playgroup here Jan. 7 was to hold a yellow ball in his hands and carefully examine it for several moments.
Soon he was in action again to explore activities with his mother and check out the toy car his friend Winston Keiper, 1, was driving. His mother, Britney Ramos, said Axel's enthusiasm and curiosity during the playgroup are exactly why she brings him.
"I like that there's open space and there are a lot of toys here for the kids to play with," Ramos said. "It's a great place for moms to meet and get along, get to know each other and get to know the base. [The children] also get to play with other kids."
The free playgroup takes place from 10 to 11:30 a.m. every Tuesday at the Educational and Developmental Intervention Services, or EDIS, offices at John O. Arnn Elementary School, said Kaoru Guarnes, manager of the Exceptional Family Member and New Parent Support programs at Army Community Service and playgroup point of contact.
The playgroup is for newborns through children age 5, Guarnes said, and although the group meets at the EDIS offices, the ACS Family Advocacy Program runs it.
The space where the group meets includes two rooms with about 1,200 square feet of space and a large variety of toys, including a climbing structure with a ladder, slide and ball pit, a child-sized basketball hoop and a host of toys designed to improve hand-eye coordination.
Not only is the group helpful because young children learn to play and socialize, but parents can also talk and exchange information about how they have met the challenges of raising children, Guarnes said.
Stan Austin, manager of the Family Advocacy Program, said the group is unstructured, so children and parents can play and socialize at their own pace.
"It's really what we'd consider 'open play,'" Austin said. "We leave it to the parents and the kids to determine what kind of activities they're going to do."
The group is open to anyone who is military-connected and has the proper credentials--military, civilian or local national--to get on post, Austin said.
During the Jan. 7 meeting, 19 children and 11 parents attended, and between 20 and 22 children attend each week on average, Austin said.
Marlee Bangerter has been bringing her five children to the playgroup since her family moved into the Sagamihara Family Housing Area nearly four years ago, and she appreciates it as a safe, stress-free place to take her children any time of the year.
"The weather here can be hard," Bangerter said. "It can be so hot. It can be rainy. It can be all of a sudden really cold, so just having somewhere indoors you can go any time of year is a lifesaver sometimes."
Her two oldest children are in elementary school now, and the playgroup helped prepare them for the transition, Bangerter said.
"By the time school starts, it's like, 'Remember we do playgroup? That's fun. This is fun too,'" Bangerter said. "Plus, we all end up going to the same school, so a lot of times the friendships that they make here, they move on into the elementary school."
Isabel DeGuzman, meanwhile, said she has been taking her daughter Catalaya, 3, to the playgroup for about two months.
"This is a nice place and a nice activity for kids, so I encourage parents and kids to come here," DeGuzman said.
Not only does the group meet in a big space, there are a lot of activities and toys, DeGuzman said.
Since attending the playgroup, Catalaya has improved when it comes to physical activities and also has more self-confidence, DeGuzman said.
Guarnes said that although the group meets in the EDIS offices, it is important to stress that the playgroup is open to all children.
"Anyone will be welcome. Anyone whose kids are under kindergarten [age]. Anyone can join us," Guarnes said.
Also, Guarnes speaks Japanese and said she can help Japanese parents obtain information about parenting.
To find the EDIS offices at Arnn Elementary, turn to the right at the front of the school and follow the pathway until an EDIS sign is visible. The offices are on the left.
For more information, contact Guarnes at (DSN) 315-263-4357 or (COMM) 046-407-4357.