by Claire Kendall
Active and engaged fathers are critical to strong and healthy families, and The Family Center of Washington County in Montpelier has been pursuing that mission since 2001 with its “Dads and Kids Playgroup” every Thursday evening from 5:30 to 7 pm. As the flier says: “Come to Dads Playgroup, a relaxed place where dads and children can eat a free dinner and play with friends!”
“Dads Playgroup may seem like a simple thing,” the host and center’s outreach coordinator, Christopher Robertson, explains, “but it’s so much more than that. Many dads work full time and often don’t have enough time with their children. Dads and Kids Playgroup gives dads not only a built-in ‘dad and kid time,’ but also a chance for dads to meet other dads.” Fellow dad, Pete Gill agrees. “Dads Playgroup has been a safe, fun place for me and my son to bond and to meet other good folks in the community.”
It’s the only ongoing, prevention-oriented community program open to all families that specifically addresses positive parenting skills for fathers. Children up to age six are welcome. The playgroups intentionally create an atmosphere that includes a supportive environment for social connections between dads. Fathers also receive support and guidance from the facilitator about their children’s behavior and development, and weekly activities that strengthen the father-child bond, such as music, dance, cooking, and indoor gym time.
Dad Aric Brown points out that through coming to Dads and Kids Playgroup, he has become aware of the many other services offered. “Besides Dads Playgroup, my wife and I have taken advantage of attending a useful parenting class, and we frequent other Family Center of Washington County playgroups, like the Saturday Morning Playgroup [9:30–11 am]. Based on my kid’s positive experience at the Family Center, I recommend it to all young families.”
Because of the meet-up’s popularity, both the Dads and Saturday Morning playgroups have expanded, from a school calendar schedule, to run through the summer. Some special events are planned for June, July, and August, such as a Summer Readers Book Giveaway, which is scheduled for Saturday, June 23, and Touch a Firetruck and a BBQ Night (visit the Family Center’s Facebook page for specific dates.)
Robertson reflects, “In 17 years of hosting Dads Playgroup, I’ve seen a generation of children and dads grow up together and maintain friendships. It’s crazy to think that my daughter, along with the first group of Dads Playgroup kids, are graduating from high school this June! At the Family Center, it’s always about the family.”
Claire Kendall is the Co-Executive Director of the Family Center of Washington County