Free-range to learn — and bond

Three-year-old Dylan Novelich said he saw a fire engine and an ambulance as he pointed to a far room with a window looking out to the street.

Walking as quick as his legs could go, he went into a smaller play room and pointed to a basketful of different toy trucks, pulling out miniature replicas of the public safety vehicles.

Dylan and his mother, Sondra Novelich, plopped down on a rug modeled after city streets to drive the toy trucks.

"This is excellent," Novelich said. "This has all his favorite things."

The Novelichs were two of about a dozen moms and children Tuesday morning at St. Peter's By-the-Sea Presbyterian Church's first parent-participation play time.

Novelich, who doesn't belong to the church, said she brought Dylan to help him transition from always being with her to starting preschool, so "come the fall, it won't be such a shock," she said.

The Tuesday morning activity was started to give parents and children, 12-months-old and walking to 5 years old, a place to have fun and get a little messy, said Karen Sheffield, a deacon with the church.

"We wanted to reach out to the community," she said, adding they want people to "feel very welcome" at the church.

During the summer, there aren't many activities for kids and the church is offering an inexpensive way to have fun and give kids the chance to participate in activities they might not normally get to do at home, Sheffield said.

It is set up so children can jump around doing whatever holds their attention, said Jan Harvey, the church's director of children's ministries.

The multiple play rooms were set up with Legos, Play-Doh, snack tables, toys, puzzles and an art project where kids could decorate a paper fish with crayons, markers and colorful squares of paper. Outside, there was a paint station, playground equipment and children splashing around in buckets of water painting the walls of the building.

There are no rules, giving children the chance to explore whatever level they are at, Sheffield said. There will also be a chance for kids to get wet and messy, so parents are asked to bring their children in play clothes or swimsuits if the weather is nice.

The church plans on having water tables for kids to splash around in, but changing it up and filling them with rice or sand some weeks so the children can have different "tactile" experiences, Sheffield said.

The play date is exclusively for parents and children, and they ask that no nannies, babysitters or friends come. Parents and children need to form a bond, and these couple hours a week are a time to reaffirm that, Sheffield said.

"I think it's easy to send children with other people, but this is really a time for parents and kids to bond together," she said.

While Novelich said she wants to start preparing her son for not being with her every second, she still enjoys the mommy-and-me play times and wants to spend as much time with him as she can.

"I want to soak up every minute," she said.

If You Go

What: Parent participation play time

Who: Parents and children 12 months old to 5 years

When: 9:30 at 11:30 a.m. July 20, and Aug. 3, 17 and 24

Where: St. Peter's By-the-Sea Presbyterian Church, 16911 Bolsa Chica St.

Cost: $5 a child per day, $10 maximum per family

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