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Parent and Child Center offers free playtime for parents, children

Jean Noland, Grand Forks Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program representative, speaks to parents at the Grand Forks Air Force Base Parent and Child Center, July 12, 2012. Noland is one of several briefers who visit the center periodically to educate parents on a range of topics from nutrition to general pediatrics. The center is open Monday through Friday, 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m. For more information, call 701-747-3831 or 3241. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Amber Bennett)

Jean Noland, Grand Forks Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program representative, speaks to parents at the Grand Forks Air Force Base Parent and Child Center, July 12, 2012. Noland is one of several briefers who visit the center periodically to educate parents on a range of topics from nutrition to general pediatrics. The center is open Monday through Friday, 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m. For more information, call 701-747-3837 or 3241. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Amber Bennett)

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- The Parent and Child Center is a facility offered by the Airman and Family Readiness Center where parents can bring their children for open recreation and planned activities at no cost.

Jayne Flaagan, the Parent and Child Center director, has held her position at the center for about five years, and sees as many as 800 people a month come through the center's doors.

With 10 years of experience as a home daycare provider, she is a one-woman show. She keeps her own calendar, schedules all activities, oversees building maintenance, books guest speakers, and acts as a liaison to parents for other activities on base--particularly those sponsored by the AFRC, since most of the parents she meets are spouses of military members.

She even sets up the occasional field trip to places like the base pool. Flaagan said she likes to stay on base as much as possible to encourage parents to familiarize themselves with the facilities here and to use them regularly.

Flaagan said that one of the challenges she faces is taking care not to duplicate the services of other organizations on base that offer activities for children, such as story time at the library.

The center features an open play area in the main lobby with an adjacent arts and crafts center, a full kitchen, a separate running room (the only part of the building where children are permitted to run indoors), and an outdoor play area in the back of the building.

The center offers toys, board games and other indoor rainy-day activities for parents and children.

"I encourage parents to get creative when it comes to playing with their kids," Flaagan said. "That's why there are no adult-sized tables or chairs in the main play area, so parents can get down on the floor and actually engage with their children as they're playing. Children learn through play, and they need that interaction with their parents--they crave it. People can't imagine how much there is to do here until they get here."

There is no age limit for children visiting the center, Flaagan said.

Formerly called the 'Escape Zone,' the center began as a place to offer classes and information sessions for parents with small children. Though it has transitioned away from that model, Flaagan still calls in guest speakers in the fields of nutrition, massage therapy and general pediatrics from on and off base.

When the center is not holding any events or activities, it serves as a central play area for parents of younger children to hold play dates, potlucks, or simply get out of the house--especially during a long, cold North Dakota winter.

"It's easy to get cabin fever during the winters here, so having a place to go with your kids and meet with other parents and their kids serves as a great outlet for parents and children," Flaagan said. "There's no charge, no membership and parents can come and go as they please."

Parents laud the center as a great way to interact and network with other Grand Forks parents.

"The center has been a great way for me to make friends," said Cassandra Gimbl, mother of two, whose husband works at the 319th Medical Group. "It's great all year around, especially in the wintertime, and it's free."

Autumn Maney, mother of three and wife of a 69th Reconnaissance Group maintainer, agreed.

"It's good social interaction for both the parents and the kids," she said. "It gives me a chance to meet up with some other parents from base and just have a chance to visit outside of the house."

The Parent and Child Center is located in Building 320 at 410 7th Avenue. Hours of operation are from 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information about the Parent and Child Center, call 701-747-3837 or 3241.