Soft Play provides safe environment; receives support from Kinsmen

community support - The Kinsmen Club of Claresholm recently provided a $1,000 donation to support the Soft Play program, which takes place at the Claresholm United Chuch every other Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to noon. In back from left are Pat Thompson, of the Claresholm United Church; parent volunteers Vanessa McKenzie and Naomi Bullock; Mike McMahon of the Kinsmen; and Elaine Mahan, coordinator of the Porcupine Hills Early Childhood Coalition; while in front from left are Julia Chatterton; Millie and Katie Bullock; Kate Dara, McMahon's daughter; William Chatterton; and Oliver Bullock. Photo by Rob Vogt

By Rob Vogt, Local Press Writer
It’s a place where children can be safe and play, while their parents can have some support at the same time.
It’s called Soft Play, and it takes place in the basement of the United Church every other Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to noon, and there is no charge to participate. It also runs through the summer and holidays.
Soft Play is a chance for parents to bring their children to a place where they can have unstructured play. They can build, play, move around on mats and structures, play games, play with balls and free play.
A typical session starts with set up, which is being done now every time by the missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, someone arrives to take registrations, and by 10 a.m. it gets really busy as children play.
Take down is then done by all the parents who are there at the end of the session.
“It really ends up being nice support for parents,” said Naomi Bullock, one of the parent volunteers.
Soft Play, which can have between 15 and 60 children participate in a session, started in 2015.
The Porcupine Hills Early Childhood Coalition met parents to talk about what they would like to see in Claresholm.
One parent brought the idea of Soft Play from England, where it was shown to develop gross motor skills in children.
So, a few mats were brought in and Soft Play began at The Station downtown.
“We outgrew The Station in a very short time,” said Elaine Mahan, coordinator of the coalition.
The United Church was available, and offered a wide open space to set up.
Now, with more children coming, and a lot of space, Soft Play needed more equipment.
Consequently, they held a fundraiser this past summer where they set up lemonade stands around town, and received donations from local businesses and individuals.
Parent volunteers run the program.
“It’s all volunteer,” said Mahan.
“All the parents have stepped up and make it happen,” Bullock said, adding to make any program sustainable it cannot be run by just one person to make it happen.
Mahan noted Soft Play is an example of how the coalition likes to introduce a program.
Parents give ideas and ultimately the community takes it over.
“All kinds of partnerships make this work,” she said.
The latest is with service clubs.
Recently the Stavely Royal Purple provided a $250 donation, and last week the Kinsmen club of Claresholm provided $1,000.
“It’s been nice the community has supported us so much,” Bullock said.
That funding will be used to repair equipment, which is beginning to show signs of wear and tear.
“It’s been a really nice program,” Bullock said, knowing children are safe. “You can just relax for a moment and have a real conversation.”