SOMERSWORTH — Kassandra St. Pierre was looking for an affordable way to kill some time on her day off from work with her 16-month-old daughter Jadalynn.

St. Pierre, who works in the cafeteria at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, found what she was looking for Friday morning, thanks to Greater Seacoast Community Health, which hosts a free weekly program for parents and young children called Somersworth Family Morning Out at the Flanagan Community Center.

“I say ‘play group’ and she’s at the front door, waiting for me to leave,” St. Pierre said of her daughter. “She’s at that door saying ‘Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!’ She loves it. She hates to leave when it’s over.”

The program is designed for parents with small children (generally kindergarten age and younger) to socialize with each other while their children play in a supervised setting. For the children, toys and games are available, as are crafting materials. The group also spends time in the Flanagan Center Gymnasium, where they can play with balls and other games.

“I don’t know a lot of people who have kids her age, or anywhere near her age,” St. Pierre said. “It gets me out. I can talk to the other parents. We sit, chat and have fun while the kids are playing. Jadalynn gets to play with other kids.”

Ally Dillon, the evening childcare supervisor at Families First in Portsmouth (which last year merged with Goodwin Community Health to form Greater Seacoast Community Health), said that while the Family Morning Out program does not offer curriculum per se, it’s a good opportunity for parents to learn ways to find support.

“We can definitely provide materials for anything a parent might be going through,” Dillon said. “A sleeping issue, toileting, behavior, disciplining methods. We can offer any sort of advice. And it’s really fun.”

Johanna LaBarge of Rochester said she heard about Family Morning Out through word of mouth, and now regularly attends with her children Sofia, 3, and Maverick, 1.

“As a stay-at-home mom, it’s hard to find stuff to keep your kids busy, especially in the colder months,” LaBarge said. “Any event you can find where kids can interact and do things like this is really great.

“Anywhere there’s other kids around, that’s where they want to be,” she added.

The Family Morning Out is one of several new programs Greater Seacoast Community Health is bringing to Somersworth and other communities in Strafford County.

“Parenting is hard work; it’s nice to connect with other people and offer opportunities,” said Patrice Baker, parent program coordinator and home visitor with Families First. Free parenting education classes are held Thursday nights at Goodwin Community Health from 5:30 to 7. Childcare is available with advance sign up.

Baker said Families First will also host a 12-week program titled “Parenting Journey” through June 27. There is already a waiting list for the class, according to Baker.

“It provides a nurturing environment where parents are invited to reflect on their own experiences, what did and didn’t work with their own parents, what they want to keep and let go of,” Baker said. “It’s an opportunity for parents to confront issues, gain insights on their own lives and relationships, and work on behaviors that will promote positive relationships with kids.”

Information: goodwinch.org and familiesfirstseacoast.org.

Story by John Doyle
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