Kids and parents learn together at Lancaster County program

Don't confuse the room full of toys and happy children in the basement of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Elizabethtown with a daycare center. Program Director Vicky Dolan wants you to know that it's a learning center for new parents and their children.

“I always say, parenting is the most important job you'll ever have,” Dolan said. “But, it's the most difficult job you'll ever have.”

The 15-year-old program is called Children's Playroom. For many new moms and dads, it's where self doubt turns to self confidence.

According to Dolan, “We could have been a CEO of a company. We have this baby. And we have no manual. And we don't know really what to do.”

The first half of the weekly two hour sessions features one on one play time between parents and children, where little ones learn to explore, create and share through all kinds of games, books and music. Then, with the kids occupied by snacks and games, the parents slip off to an adjoining room to share and explore parenting issues, over coffee and snacks.

Dolan says the group discussions reassure the new parents that the concerns they bring to the table are not unique.

“They don't feel alone,” she said. ” When parents come in here, they feel like they can open up and share anything and they will get support from staff and from other moms.”

The 45 minute discussions are led by certified parent educators, covering topics like child development, nutrition, toilet training, and stress management. The hour-long sessions also help parents and children adjust to being separated, even if only for a brief period. For some parents, these breakaway discussions are the first time they have been physically separated from their child.

Staff member Georgann Azzalina first came to Children's Playroom seven years ago as a participant, looking for parenting tips for her two young boys.

“I was brand new,” Azzalina said. ” I was a teacher for ten years, but, at the time, I had no idea what I was doing and I was lost.”

The non- profit Children's Playroom is open to parents with children from infant to age six. There is a fee for the 16 weeks of sessions, but most of the operating costs are covered by donations from private, civic and church groups.

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