BEMIDJI -- Families with children ranging from ages 6 months to 5 years old were having no shortage of fun at the Paul Bunyan Center Playground on Friday as they took part in Nature and Nurture offered by Movement and Play.

As one of the initiatives of the Bemidji Early Childhood Collaborative, Nature and Nurture has been held each Friday from June 11 through Aug. 27 in collaboration with the Paul Bunyan Center to provide an outdoor play space for young children and resources for their caregivers.

“(The children) are connecting with others who are of similar age, so they’re all playing and doing activities that are developmentally appropriate for them,” MAP Program Coordinator Heidi Bruder said. “In addition, there are also guests that come each week who share their resources for the community.”

Weekly visitors as part of the community connection series have included the Bemidji Public Library, Sanford Children’s Therapy, Beltrami County WIC, Choice Therapy, Family Home Visiting, BI-CAP Head Start/Housing and Community Resource Connection.

Bruder recalled when the Bemidji Fire Department visited back in June and again in August.

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“That was a big day. We had a lot of kids come,” Bruder said. “They got to climb around the fire truck, so that was fun for them and there were lots of photo opportunities for the littles.”

Each Nature and Nurture event has seen anywhere from 20 participants to 65, some of whom have never attended these summer sessions before.

“We found out about this in early July and that’s when we started coming,” MAP attendee Monica Smith said regarding her two sons. “It’s very different from an actual pre-school setting where that’s really structured. Here, you can really get to know how to play with other kids without being directed how to play.”

“Besides the play aspect of it, it’s been great for them to socialize and interact with the other kids,” Khelsee Berry, another MAP attendee, said of her son and daughter. “It’s also been fun to chat with other moms and watch the little ones who are around the same age bounce ideas off one another.”

MAP has been going strong despite COVID, which Bruder partly credits for the program’s success.

“People have been isolated for so long, so to have the opportunity to safely be outdoors with others and have some sense of normalcy I think was an excellent option for families,” Bruder said. “We obviously take precautions, make sure things are cleaned. We find a way to keep families together and keep them healthy and safe because they need it.”

With this Friday’s event being the last for the summer, Bruder is looking forward to this coming winter for another MAP session, which has historically been held at the Bemidji Area Boys and Girls Club or the National Guard Armory.

Bruder also draws from personal experience when coordinating future events for local families.

“As a mom myself, when my daughter was little, there was a sense of isolation because you’re home caring for your kids and it’s harder to get out and do things even without COVID,” Bruder said. “They’re fun to watch and you realize they’re in their own world not affected by all the other things that we, as adults, hear.”

MAP updates and other program information can be found at bemidjiearlychildhoodcollaborative.org and on their Facebook page.