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Playing it safe

Going on three decades of rainy-day fun and games, the Forest Grove Indoor Playground is good for kids - and parents, too
by: Nancy Townsley,

On Sammy Ruder's second birthday last Thursday, he and his mother got up early and made apple cake for breakfast.

Then they got in the car and drove to one of the toddler's favorite places - the Forest Grove Indoor Playground in Verboort.

There, Sammy and a dozen or so other children careened down slides, scurried up wooden climbing structures and slithered through tunnels.

They pushed toy shopping carts around the cavernous room inside Forester's Hall and made forts with huge plastic blocks while their parents chatted on benches at the side of the room.

For the kids and their parents, the twice-a-week break from rainy-day doldrums is cathartic. The playground is open on Mondays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon between September and June, taking two months off in the summer.

Designed for children from birth through age five, the playground is a lifesaver for parents when the weather turns cold and rainy, cooping energetic children up inside their houses.

'I've been coming here for five years - since my oldest child was six months old,' said Lisa Ruder, Sammy's mom.

'It's just a great place for the kids to play and socialize, and for me to talk to other parents for a while,' she said.

Her other children, David, five, and Zoe, three, have spent many happy hours at the playground, which rents space at Forester's Hall on Visitation Road. Now that his older brother is in kindergarten and his sister goes to preschool, it's Sammy's turn to fill up on the fun.

'He just loves it here,' said Ruder, watching Sammy run after an oversize basketball.

For Banks resident Rebecca Brinkly, president of the nonprofit organization that runs the playground, the hours she spends planning special activities - like holiday parties for enrolled families - are well worth the effort.

'We have special events for Halloween, Christmas and Easter,' said Brinkly, who lives in Banks. 'And we take a trip to the pumpkin patch every year.'

The Christmas party is scheduled for Dec. 14. As a new service to its members this year, the indoor playground also is providing babysitting on Dec. 11 and 21 so parents can do some holiday shopping.

'It's a fund-raiser for the playground,' said Brinkly, who is hiring sitters and charging $5 an hour for three hours of childcare. The playground, which has enrolled as many as 60 families in the past, is down to 35 families this year.

'We can use more members,' said Brinkly. 'We're about half full.'

An annual fee of $70 per family covers everything from equipment maintenance to liability insurance. And, it costs about $2,400 a year to rent the building, she added.

A new feature allows parents to purchase a punch card, giving them five playground visits for $25.

Brinkly discovered the playground - now in its 30th year - when her son, Jordan, was a baby. He's now six years old and a first-grader at Banks Elementary School.

'My son wasn't even walking when we started,' said Brinkly, a stay-at-home mom. 'We needed a place to come and get his wiggles out.'

Besides that, Brinkly said, her 'number one motivation' was to meet other parents and escape the isolation that sometimes comes with being home with small children.

Last week, while her daughter, Emily, four, looked at picture books with another little girl and rolled a doll around the room in a stroller, Brinkly visited with Ruder and Richard Lind, a Forest Grove resident.

Lind is a stay-at-home dad to his daughter Lily, two, a bright-eyed girl with 'a lot of energy,' he said.

'This is a great place to come during the winter,' he said. 'It's nice for Lily to be able to interact with other children because she's an only child.'

The fact that the playground operates as a cooperative impresses Lind.

'You stay here and mind your kids, but it's not something that requires a lot of effort,' he said. 'While they're playing, you can talk with other adults.'

Robin Leis of Forest Grove enjoyed time with his three-year-old son, J.P., at last Thursday's session. He sang 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat' while he rocked J.P. and Luella Lesh, three, on a wooden teeter-totter.

'It's a rainy time of year, and I need an outlet - a place for him to run,' said Leis as he watched J.P. toss a ball through a red plastic tunnel. 'It's a social setting, so he's learning to share.'

Parents swap child-rearing tips and share stories about first steps, first words and first teeth. The time flies by, said Sara Green, a playground newcomer.

'I really like that it's a child-safe environment for Zachary to play in,' the Forest Grove resident said. Her 16-month-old son especially likes the climbing toys, she added.

Her friend, Sheila Lesh of Forest Grove, lives just a couple blocks from Green. 'We found out we were neighbors,' Green said.

'Before the playground, we didn't even know that.'

Info on the Web

For more information about the Forest Grove Indoor Playground, call Rebecca Brinkly at 503-201-5179 or log on to www.fgip.org.