HOUGHTON - When parents play with their children, it's often just for fun, for bonding time or just to get the little ones' energy out.
However, studies are making it increasingly apparent that physical activity for young children is vital for their development as well. So with winter making it a little more difficult for children to get as much exercise, the Keweenaw Family Resource Center has programs like "Ready Set Grow!" at the Treehouse Indoor Playground in Houghton to keep development going during the colder months.
"Having (programs) at the Tree House enables us to do some gross motor play because we have the space - we have the swing and slide," said Cathy Benda, KFRC director. "'Ready Set Grow!' is incorporating into a standard playgroup - which is usually mostly socialization - more of those physical activities and more emphasis on brain development."
Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
Justin Weber, right, 15 months old, and Natalia Werner, 14 months old, play at the Keweenaw Family Resource Center’s Treehouse Indoor Playground in September.
One of the major developments "Ready Set Grow!" focuses on is "crossing the midline." The midline is an imaginary line running down the body, separating right from left. Crossing it involves the ability to move a part of the body into the space of the other side, such as touching one's left elbow with one's right hand. Throwing balls back and forth and parachute play are among the activities involved, according to the KFRC's Andra Ziemnick.
"It helps organize the brain," Benda said. "It has a whole broader impact than just that they're getting physical exercise. We want that, but we also want them to have hand-eye coordination."
"Ready Set Grow!" also features dancing and other varieties of movement that aid in development, which is important because 90 percent of brain development occurs in the first five years of life, according to Benda. That fact was one of the reasons the Treehouse was created.
"You can play here and you have the space," Benda said. "We have a wonderful safety factor here, and kids can get rid of their energy.
"The other thing we notice is it links parents up to other parents of young children," Benda continued.
That connection and aiding in parents' playing with their children is another focus of "Ready Set Grow!" and other programs. Parents get a chance to play with their children away from the distractions at home and also can avoid becoming isolated with their children at home.
"Some parents have said their best friends are still moms they met at playgroup 10 years ago," Ziemnick said.
In addition to "Ready Set Grow!", the KFRC has created the TRAINS program, or Targeting Reflex development And Improving Neuro-sensory-motor Skills. TRAINS is a program for parents and caregivers concerned about their 3 to 5 year olds' development. The program is led by a pediatric occupational therapist and focuses on play-based activities and hands-on therapy to improve social and motor skills.
To fund these programs, the KFRC has several donors. The KFRC collaborates with BHK, receives Kellogg Foundation grants, receives general donations and received help from the Keweenaw Community Foundation and Portage Community Health Foundation in particular for its "Ready Set Grow!" program.
"That helped us pilot some programs like parachute play and ... brought some people to come in and do activities with us," Benda said.
For more information on "Ready Set Grow!", the Treehouse or the KFRC, call 482-9363 or visit kfrckids.org.