Imagination reigns at Sanford’s Play Daze

Apr. 25, 2014 @ 03:33 PM

Hundreds of children, most between the ages of 3 and 8, swarmed the San-Lee Recreation Park Thursday for Play Daze, a three-hour event that allowed children from all over Lee County to explore their creative side out in the sun.

Judy Thomas, the program manager at the Coalition for Families in Lee County, directed the festivities and said she was pleased with the turnout.

“We had 400 kids registered,” Thomas said. “A lot of families are here. Some child care centers came out.”

Ranger Steve Godfrey, who was busy directing traffic and finding places for people to park, said, “This is the most kids I’ve seen in 30 years in the park at one time.” 

“We’ve had to use every nook and cranny,” he added. “This is the first time we’ve done this, and it turned out great.”

Play Daze started with a Play Mobile from the Active Play Alliance and Be Active Kids, which travels to different counties throughout North Carolina to provide a wide variety of outdoor activities for children.

“It’s full of loose parts like swimming pools, tubes, ropes, pots and pans,” Thomas said. “Children being creative, that’s the idea.”

According to Thomas, Play Daze is most often held in urban parks.

“This is the first camping-type park that has had this event,” she said. “There are a lot more opportunities here.”

Stations for cardboard fort building, painting, mud and creek play, Native American dancing and storytelling, rope climbing, a book nook, fairy tales and more were set up throughout the park.

Mia Rios Ramos, 8, and Lorelei Garrity, 6, spent a good portion of the day tending to the plastic flower garden they had planted in their cardboard condominium.

Meanwhile, Ashley Melpolder looked on while her 2-year-old daughter, Aurora, was hunkered down in the sandbox after a long day of blowing bubbles. Melpolder said she was appreciative of the opportunities Play Daze provided.

“It’s a great way to get kids out of the house,” she said. “There’s something for everyone.”

She added, “We spent a lot of time with the bubbles; it was hard to get her away from the bubbles.”

Parents and teachers supervised the stations, but Thomas said the kids had free reign to explore whatever piqued their interest. She wanted them to express themselves.

“We envisioned two or three kids at a time for rope climbing,” she said. “At one point, I looked over, and there was a whole train of them climbing up the hill.”

The display of Native American dance and storytelling hosted by members of the Lumbee Indian Tribe appeared to be one of the most well-attended stations. Children were treated to lessons about the form and functionality of Lumbee armor and clothing, as well as demonstrations of Lumbee style and culture.

“I enjoyed seeing the smile on the kids’ faces,” said Tina Mullen, one of the Lumbee performers. “I also liked the snakes,” she said, glancing toward the Nature Center, where visitors could see an array of birds, fish, reptiles and mammals native to North Carolina.

Play Daze was the result of a number of local organizations working together. The Lee County Public Library donated books for the book nook. The Arts Council provided funding to the Lumbee Indian Tribe for its attendance. And volunteers from the early childhood education department of Central Carolina Community College helped look after the roughly 400 children roaming the park.

The Active Play Alliance started Play Daze in 2011 with 28 events, funded largely by BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina. In 2013, Play Daze hosted 52 events.

“I think the BlueCross and BlueShield has the right idea, encouraging children to be active,” said Carolyn Spivey, director of the Coalition for Families in Lee County.

By noon, when the event ended, hundreds of children started packing up to head home. They were tired. They were covered in dust and dirt and mud and sand. Some were wet from splashing around in the creek for hours. But they looked happy; the line heading across the bridge to the parking lot was nothing but smiles.

As Mia and Lorelei, two of the last children to leave, patched up one of the walls of their cardboard condo with plenty of duct tape, it was clear that Play Daze’s call for kids to explore their creativity had found a home.

With a grin, Mia assured Lorelei that they could get the uncooperative piece of cardboard to stay upright if they tried.

“With a little imagination,” she said, “anything is possible.”