If you have been following Chasing Hazel for any length of time, you may have seen that I have been doing guest lectures at the College for a couple years now. I am often invited, by my super awesome friend, Kathryn, to speak about our lives, our kids and what the diagnosis of Down syndrome may mean to families. These lectures are delivered to future teachers, and early childhood educators. They are just about to begin a career where they devote the next 30 or so years to children of all different abilities.
Often, I go in with the message of inclusion and the importance of high expectations. I talk a great deal about being compassionate. I explain how Hazel is the same as all other children. I explain how she is different - And how that is ok. Different is not scary, it’s just that different. And EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I am looking around the room and I just know - I can FEEL - that they already get it. They LOVE Hazel, they understand her, and me. They already have compassion pouring out of their hearts. They WANT her. They ACCEPT her. They’ve already made the commitment to educating whoever walks through the doors of their classroom. I’m preaching to the choir, so to speak.
Anyway - What I am trying to say is, this relationship has lead to a SUPER cool opportunity to do something pretty amazing for our DS community here in Windsor.
WE ARE STARTING A PLAY GROUP!!!!!
And we are opening the doors to all those in the DS community that have children from ages 0-10 (or 12 we haven’t decided yet - LOL) I am so excited I can barely stand it!!!!!
Our goal with this play group is to provide a family friendly environment for children and families to get together and play, bond, connect and discuss. We want to make it as convenient and EASY for families as possible. So we decided - Brothers and sisters are welcome too! A place the whole family can go to hang with their kids, simply observe them playing in the group or step away to another room to sit and enjoy the company of other parents. It was also important to us to provide an inclusive environment so opening this up to siblings just made sense to us.
The child care space is fully equipped with a brand new preschool room filled to the brim with everything and anything a child would need to keep busy with their friends. They have crafts, sensory activities, lots of centre for imaginary play, manipulative and a super SUPER awesome Snoezelen room. It’s the perfect place!! We will do our best to provide snacks for each session.
And HONESTLY GUYS!!!! The very best part of it all is…wait for it…
There will be a team of qualified, trusted Concurrent Education or Early Childhood Education students developing programming, activities and some guided play opportunities for all the children who attend each session.
We had one opportunity to do a pilot session for this play group and it was fantastic!!! We were able to sit and connect as parents, while the kids were in the best hands playing and having a blast. This group is a work in progress and it is at the very beginning stages. Over time we hope to be able to build, expand, grow and have more specific goals. For now we are working with parents to see what it is that they want, and what will work for their families.
This is all offered to parents at NO CHARGE (aside from the fee for parking).
Of course we have future goals and hopes. Some of which include the possibility of seminars, presenters, integrating therapies but mostly for now we just want to….
Let it GROW!
We want to be a resource to new and existing families in our community. We want to be a safe place we can play, learn and just BE.
I will leave you with this…
Our very first night piloting this play group changed me forever. We were able welcome a new mother to the Down syndrome community. A mother who had previously not known that there was even a DS community that existed. A room full of people who fussed and loved on her new little 5 month old baby boy. An experience that this particular mother had never had with her new baby boy. I held her in my arms as we cried together. To be honest I think mostly her tears were of relief and hope. She said she felt so much peace knowing she wasn’t alone. Some of the tears were indeed because she was scared and confused, which brought me back to my days of fear and worry. There we were connecting. Crying. Growing.
There is no doubt in my mind that this play group’s purpose is to connect families. And on the very first night of it’s existence we were able to make such a profound impact on an entire family. More importantly, I was reminded that in the end all we need to do is show up. Being a part of the Down syndrome community both on-line and in our local community has given me more peace that I could even try to put into words. I was so incredibly grateful to be able to give that feeling to another mother.
This play group is going to be a gateway to changing lives. Everyone’s. Mine, new mothers, our children with DS and without, child care providers, teachers…EVERYONE!