PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 1, 2021) – All it took was a pair of rocking horses for Rosie Hardin, 2, to make a friend during the weekly playgroup at Army Community Service here Sept. 28.
When Rosie started playing with one of the horses, Harlee, 3, soon joined her on the other one, and the two of them began galloping across the floor in a close race. Rosie’s mother, Lyndsey Hardin, said her daughter’s enthusiasm for making friends during the playgroup is one of several reasons why she brings her.
“She loves it,” Hardin said. “We come here, and she makes friends. She’s learned so much since we’ve come here.”
The free playgroup, for newborns through children age 4, takes place from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. every Tuesday in the Gold Room at ACS, said Esther Almas, ACS Family Advocacy Program manager. The playgroup contributes to the quality of life for parents and children who are members of the Presidio of Monterey community.
“A lot of children and parents have been feeling very, very isolated,” Almas said, “So this gives them a conduit and an opportunity to be able to come out and meet other parents and also be able to have their children meet other kids to play with.”
The space where the group meets is a large room with a variety of toys designed to improve fine and gross motor skills for children of different ages. During the Sept. 28 meeting, eight children attended with a parent.
Laura Parsons, director of ACS, said that not only does the playgroup help children learn how to make friends and build fine and gross motor skills, it also gives parents a chance to socialize as well.
“It does build that social network that hopefully will carry on outside the walls,” Parsons said.
Almas said ACS has contracted with Parenting Connection of Monterey County, a nonprofit headquartered in Marina, Calif., to run the education portion of the playgroup.
Angie Sonrode, playgroup leader for Parenting Connection of Monterey County, led the Sept. 28 playgroup, creating play areas around the room and leading “circle time,” when everyone comes together for interactive, educational time together.
Sonrode said she breaks the room up into sections, such as a reading area, an infant area with small toys and an art area, to emphasize skills for children of different age groups.
“We’re looking for interaction with their parents and with each other, because depending on their age group, a lot of times they’ll parallel play—where they’ll play next to each other—but not with each other,” Sonrode said. “It’s totally age appropriate … It depends on the group that shows up. Every day is a little different.”
Juliet Pool, executive director of Parenting Connection, said that in addition to building skills in children, the idea behind the playgroup is to also give parents an understanding of the developmental stages of young children.
“Play is the medium, but it’s education for kids and adults,” Pool said.
Sonrode said she wants parents to come away with ideas on how to spend quality time with their children.
“The idea is to come here and say, ‘Oh hey, I don’t have these blocks. Most of us don’t have blocks this size in our house, but I have a cardboard box from Amazon that I can cut up and we can make a car out of it or a fort,’” Sonrode said.
As for Rosie and Harlee, after they stopped playing with the rocking horses, they moved to the reading area and began playing airplane and pretending they were passengers experiencing turbulence. Other children, meanwhile, went down a small slide, played with blocks and worked on an art project with crayons.
Hardin said the playgroup is good preschool preparation for Rosie.
“I’m just really glad — I’m glad to be here,” Hardin said. “There’s a lot of kids here. It’s free. I like how they have teachers now and they’re doing the circle time and it’s a preschool before preschool kind of thing.”
Likewise, Asa Hawley, who attended with her son Gideon, 1, said they have enjoyed the playgroup as well.
“I have a son who is 1 and is very busy and he has to be occupied all the time,” Hawley said. “I saw this group on Facebook and I just live across the street, so I said, ‘Why not come?’ This is the second time. It is great.”
Not only can Gideon meet other children and make friends, so can she, Hawley said, and it is a good opportunity to talk with other parents and have a good time.
“It’s spacious and it’s safe and they have toys that we don’t have, so my son is so busy right now,” Hawley said.
For more information, contact Almas at (831) 242-7653 or email@example.com.