It was an idea that came to Julita Traylen last spring when she was searching for a free play group in Oak Bay for her two year old daughter, Tess. She didn't have much luck in that quest.
“There was a reading program at the library that was great, but really wasn't what I was looking for,” said Traylen. “And other programs all had a fee attached to them.”
What Traylen wanted was a place where toddlers and their parents could drop by and enjoy one another’s company in an informal and very lightly structured program.
“The kids really just needed a place to play and interact,” said Traylen. “And as for the parents – well I thought that other sleep-deprived parents like myself might want a place where we could enjoy a chat and a cup of coffee with other adults while the children played.”
Undaunted by the seeming lack of a program that fit her needs, Traylen cast about the neighbourhood and discovered that a perfect space for a play group existed in the Community Hall of the Oak Bay United Church (1355 Mitchell St.).
She approached the Church’s Minister, Rev. Keith Howard, with the idea that the church might be used for a non-denominational program for pre-school children. He was immediately enthusiastic about the concept.
“We’re very interested in families,” said Howard. “So this was a natural fit.” He said that the church is always supportive of initiatives that speak to the needs of families.
“Young families, and particularly young mothers, are often under a lot of stress and need to have the support of the community,” he said. “The church is a part of the community and if we can provide the space for a worthwhile program … why not do it?”
In fact, the church provided not only the space but also gave Traylen’s program access to a supply of toys and equipment that they already had on hand for other programs.
But it was still up to Traylen to bring the program to fruition.
“I created a Facebook page and made up a lot of posters,” she said. “Tess and I did a lot of walking last spring as we put posters up all over the neighbourhood.”
Traylen says that she had no idea if anyone would actually come to the program she had planned. “It was really a bit of an experiment on my part,” she said. “But it turned out very well.”
When the program started in April, Traylen said that a few parents and their children showed up. Over time, that number grew. “We had coffee and the kids just had a great time running around and playing. Sometimes we’d do some directed play, but mostly we let them use their imagination. They have a great time.”
The program took a hiatus over the summer but is set to start up again on Oct. 1. It will operate every Monday between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
Details and updates regarding the program are available at facebook.com/oakbay.parent.and.tot.cafe.