Janesville64°

Groups prove to be a benefit for children and parents

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
February 1, 2008
— Bruce Campbell always is looking for opportunities to network with other parents.

That’s why the Janesville man, who is the father of two young girls, will participate in the Exchange Family Resource Center’s new He and Me Playgroup.


It will start as soon as the center’s East Milwaukee Street building expansion and remodeling project are complete in March, said Nancy Brooks, executive director.


“It will be beneficial just like any of the playgroups. It builds social networking between not only the kids but also between parents,’’ he said.


Bruce used to attend other daytime playgroups “quite a bit” before his work schedule became problematic.


Now, he can become active in playgroups, again, since the new He and Me Playgroup will meet Tuesday evenings.


“The He and Me will be nice because the one (playgroup) during the day is a lot of moms. A lot of dads aren’t comfortable. Dads’ and men’s issues are different than moms’,” Bruce said.


“It’s nice to see another man’s point of view and how he’s dealing with different situations. It gives you somebody to call when you’re at your wits end with your children,’’ Bruce said.


What amazes Bruce most is how children develop socially in playgroup.


“You literally watch them progress from week to week,’’ he said.


Bruce’s wife, Cara, became acquainted with the center after she met a woman at McDonald’s who told her about it.


“I’ve been coming here for five years,” Cara said during a recent playgroup with the couple’s youngest and 4-year-old daughter at the center.


The center, she’s found, provides a nurturing environment in which parents can connect with resources, access information, participate in parenting programs and enjoy family activities with children. Staff believes there is no one right way to parent and that all families can benefit from parenting information and support.


Cara has found that to be true.


“As a stay-at-home mom I wanted my daughters to have social skills. Coming almost every week to the center has helped with that a lot, and we’ve met a lot of friends. It’s been awesome,” Cara said.


Now Cara schedules play dates, birthday parties and Mom’s night out with other moms who take their kids, younger than 5, to the center. During a recent playgroup, she even brought a new friend and her child.


“I recommend it to anyone,” Cara said of the center.


She also has attended the center’s ask-the-expert workshops, parenting classes and special events plus has tapped into the center’s other parenting connections—a lending library with books, videos and toys; a computer with Internet access; resources and referrals to community agencies in addition to volunteer opportunities, she said.


“If there is nobody to lead playgroups, I’ll do it,” said Cara, who volunteers along with Bruce.


“I’ve made a lot of good friends here—people I can trust.


“They’ve done so much for my family, and I know they’ve helped a lot of other people,” Cara said.


The center, Cara said, “makes you feel like you’re not alone.”


Judging by the number—a full house—of those attending a recent playgroup, it’s apparent others in the community also have become aware of the ongoing free programs and services the center offers.


“We’ve grown from 303 families our first year to 619 last year,” Brooks said.


“A decade ago, extended families lived nearby for advice and to help with child care. Nowadays, due to mobility and everyone working, parents don’t always have that. Here, they can come and socialize and learn of community resources,” Brooks said.


Participants, Brooks said, have the opportunity to:


-- Learn about early childhood brain development.


-- Learn what to expect as their children grow.


-- Develop stress management skills.


-- Strengthen family relationships.


-- Learn how to communicate with their children.


-- Learn effective discipline techniques.


“All parents—from those in crisis to those who want an opportunity to connect—need some support at one time or another,” Brooks said.


That’s true, said Jim Brown of Janesville, who has been bringing his daughter Reagan, 5, and son Tanner, 3, to the center several times a month for the past three years.


“It’s a chance for them to be with other kids,” Brown said.


It also has helped Reagan enjoy art and overcome her shyness.


“After she’s here for a bit, she warms up and is getting more outgoing,” Brown said, as he helped his children create snowmen at the arts and crafts table.


Sue and Dean Buchholz of Janesville drop in at the center whenever they feel like it with their 2-year-old granddaughter Delena Henry.


“The socialization is what we were after,” Sue said.


And they found it.


After just two, short months they have noticed a difference in Delena’s social skills.


“She’s very shy, but she loves it.


“Each time we come, it takes her a minute, but then she goes right to the rice and light tables to play,” Buchholz said of Delena.


“Sometimes she’s so in awe of the other kids,” Sue said, “she just stands and watches.”


JUST THE FACTS

Who: Exchange Family Resource Center, a program of Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin. Other partners include the Exchange Club of Greater Janesville, The Children’s Trust Fund, United Way of North Rock County, Brighter Futures Initiative and Children’s Hospital and Health System.


What it is: He and Me Playgroup, when male caregivers will have fun with their child(ren) through play, music, art and stories.


When: 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, starting in March, if the center’s expansion stays on schedule.


Other play times: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.


Where: 2020 E. Milwaukee St., Suite 5, Janesville.


Contact information: (608) 314-9006, phone; (608) 314-9009, fax.


Cost: Free. Registration is required for some programs.


AT A GLANCE

Learning Essentials About Parenting


These topics will be addressed from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on the Tuesdays listed:


-- Positive Brain Development—March 4 and May 13.


-- Communicating with Respect—March 11 and May 20.


-- Building Self Worth—March 18 and May 27.


-- Understanding Feelings—March 25 and June 3.


-- Developing Family Morals, Values—April 1 and June 10.


-- Praising Children—April 8 and June 17.


-- Alternatives to Spanking—April 15 and June 24.


-- Dealing with Stress and Anger—April 22 and July 1.


-- Nurturing Parent—April 29 and July 8.


-- Ages and Stages of Growth—May 6 and July 15.


(Free on-site childcare is available to those who preregister. You don’t have to attend all and can join the program at any time.)



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