Orleans and Northern Essex counties are known for beautiful unspoiled landscapes, and remote, sparsely populated communities. For families with young children, making social connections can be challenging. In several communities in Orleans and Northern Essex counties, community playgroups are being offered at a variety of venues, but with similar goals-to increase social connections by providing opportunities to engage with others. Our communities and the Orleans Northern Essex Building Bright Futures Council have prioritized the safe and healthy development of children and families by supporting systems that reduce feelings of isolation and promote activities that build positive relationships and serve as a resource for parenting information and child development.
The Barton Public Library offers a Storytime/Playgroup every Wednesday, led by Children’s Librarian Joanne Pariseau. Twice a month, the Barton Early Head Start program collaborates with the library program, providing families in the home based program a chance to socialize with other parents and children in the community. During the summer months, the Green Mountain Farm to School “Lunchbox” food truck serves free meals at the library every Wednesday, so families are able to attend the Storytime and receive a free lunch for their children. Joanne is the Children’s Librarian at the Dailey Memorial Library in Derby where every Tuesday, she holds a storytime that includes songs, crafts and playtime.
In the small community of Glover, the Glover Public Library sponsors a Playgroup supported by the Town of Glover, which provides the Glover Town Hall space free of charge every Tuesday from October to May. Playgroup facilitator Gil Boutin organizes and sets up the weekly playgroup, with support from the Glover Library staff, who provide the snack. The attendance ranges between 10-20 children a week. Librarian Toni Eubanks commented on how the playgroup is just as important for the parents as it is for the children. She described how one parent that was new to the area, established a close circle of friends from the parents that she met by attending the weekly group. Ms. Boutin is also the facilitator for a weekly playgroup in Albany at the Town Hall called the Albany Winter Playspace, on Thursdays from 9-11 am.
When the weather turns cold, the Newport City Municipal Gym transforms into an indoor playground fit for the tiniest people in the Kingdom. Preschool Play World, funded by Newport City taxpayers as part of the Parks & Recreation department’s program offerings, is a drop-in playgroup where babies, toddlers and caregivers can gather to socialize and explore in a fun environment. Geared toward children age zero to six years, the program promotes imaginative play and healthy exercise with many activities and toys.
Play World is one of the Parks & Recreation Department’s longest standing programs and has been going on for generations over the course of 30+ years. It’s such a valued program in the community! Parents have said that they enjoy having a safe, clean place for their babies to play locally and that they particularly enjoy the special events at Play World during specific holidays or bounce houses set up on Fridays during school vacations.
Preschool Play World is free and open to both residents and non-residents. Snacks and baby changing stations are available on site. It is open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from October to April.
In the far northeast corner of the Northeast Kingdom sits the town of Canaan, bordered by New Hampshire and Quebec. The Alice M. Ward Memorial Library is host to a weekly preschool playgroup, facilitated by Pam Jordan, an experienced early childhood education professional, that has been organizing playgroups in this community for many years. Parents and children that attend come from the surrounding communities, including New Hampshire. The playgroup runs year round. Play, stories, crafts, and a snack are offered and there is usually a friendly mix of fathers, mothers, grandparents and other caregivers that attend.
Libraries in Derby Line, North Troy, Newport City and Irasburg, also offer storytime activities for families with young children. Having a network of social connections that parents can rely on is important for every family. Spending time with other parents that have young children builds supportive relationships, enhances self-esteem, builds on family strengths, buffers risk, and ultimately promotes better outcomes. We are fortunate to have these opportunities in our communities.