Local Moms Organize Weekly Unstructured Play Dates

. March 25, 2016.

Parents of preschoolers know that kids need to stay active to be healthy, happy, and sleepy at the end of the day. Last winter, Krista Wachtman and Christy Bauer faced this age-old challenge head-on by arranging for their children and a few friends to play in the gymnasium of their church, Trinity Lutheran. One year later these Findlay moms have established a community of families who meet year round for free, unstructured, gross motor play that benefits local children and caregivers alike.

Meeting a need

Wachtman and Bauer were looking for an active and social outlet for their children during the winter months when it wasn’t possible for them to simply play outside. “My son William (7) has autism,”  Bauer, a mother of two, explains. “Our family was involved in interventions for behavior, gross motor, and socialization. I realized how important it was for young children to socialize and began to pursue play dates with friends to provide for those interactions for my sons.”

Wachtman, a mother of three, was also seeking an opportunity for her young children to interact with others. “After a lot of thought and prayer, I realized, certainly there are other children who are in need of a place to burn off energy and socialize!” Which is where the idea to use the church’s gym came from.

Bauer and Wachtman knew each other from Sunday School and have similar aged children. They emailed the pastor at Trinity Lutheran, asking if they could use the gym and were encouraged not only to use it, but also to invite other families. “I invited three other stay-at-home mothers to the first gathering. They then shared Open Gym with their friends. Each week we have added new families,” Wachtman said. 

The openness of the gym invites children to run and there are toys and balls readily available for play. Caregivers feel safe knowing they can keep an eye on their children from any vantage point in the multi-level gym. 

Open to Everyone

Having a child with special needs, Bauer was very aware of the difficulties others with special needs children may face. “We have a separate, quiet room for children who may be over stimulated in the gym and need a break from the larger group.” Bathrooms, a water fountain, and kitchen are all within steps of the gym making it accessible and easy to use for any family.

A second consideration in the inclusivity of Open Gym for Little Ones is the cost. It’s free! Wachtman believes they are meeting a need in the community that has not been previously available and they did not want to prevent anyone from participating by asking them to contribute financially.

Giving Back

Open Gym for Little Ones not only offers a fun place for young children to socialize and grow but this group of moms and caregivers is also giving back.  We were being frequently asked, “What do we need (for Open Gym), How can we help? But we don’t need anything,” says Bauer, so they opted to divert the generosity of church members and Open Gym attendees to local charities and organizations. In December they collected almost $200 in change for Parent 2 Parent, a support group for parents of children with special needs. In honor of the one-year anniversary of Open Gym for Little Ones the group is collecting donations for The Women’s Resource Center of Hancock County. 

Krista and Christy are most certainly not the only moms who want their children to burn off some energy and benefit from social interactions. Open Gym for Little Ones continues to grow in numbers each week. 

For more information, please visit
Open Gym for Little Ones on Facebook.