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    A Fun Time for Kids at St. Vartan's Park

    Children running through spraying water to cool the summer heat, climbing on wooden logs, swinging on tires swings, sharing cookies or a favorite toy while parents sit and exchange local gossip and hints on finding a good baby-sitter.

    These are scenes you would expect to see in the suburbs or a small town.

    So I was pleasantly surprised when I wandered into St. Vartan's Park. I found them all in a play group in the park at 35th Street and First Avenue. This child friendly place is nestled among high-rise building and skyscrapers, with the Empire State Building looming in the background.

    In this hectic two-income family world, it's rare to find a place in an urban setting like Kip's Bay in the heart of New York City, where parents and children come together at the playground to socialize and enjoy each other's company.

    St Vartan's ParkIt is one of the wonders of living in a city like New York. Each of the city's neighborhoods is a small town. There are so many community activities going on around us that we never see. People reaching out to help others and creating that feeling of community involvement that many people think New Yorkers lack.

    The NYC Department of Parks and Recreation is the sponsor of St. Vartan's Play Group, as it is officially known. Established in 1991, it was designed as an affordable, not-for-profit cooperative for parents and their children, ages two through four.

    As a parent-driven alternative to commercial play centers, the St. Vartan's version focuses on total involvement of the group to provide its kids with structured play and learning time. Children can experience what some of us may remember as an old-fashioned neighborhood environment.

    St. Vartan's Park was originally called St. Gabriel's Park. It was named for a parochial school that once stood near the site serving the area's mostly Irish-American andItalian-American residents.

    Not only were parents and grandparents involved in nurturing their own offspring, they also served as a "community watch" for the rest of the neighborhood's kids.

    It is a modern version of this nurturing environment that allows St. Vartan's children to explore with toys, blocks, books, puppets and the like, provided by the play group as a whole.

    swing rideParents are expected to attend play groups, take turns working asleaders and coordinating the group's activities.

    This includes the nitty-gritty of organizing, setting up - and cleaning up. However, many parents are prepared and willing to assume the responsibility.

    "It's a wonderful opportunity to be with the kids, talk with other parents to get a fresh perspective, and have a voice in what goes on," offered a mother of two.

    Other activities at St. Vartan's include story time, where parents take turns in reading from books or making up age appropriate tales to intrigue or entertain the group.

    St. Vartan's ParkFor the young artist, there are various arts and crafts projects available that emphasis the spirit of play in creation. Sing-alongs, dancing or playing musical instruments are other activities offered just for the fun of it. At lunch, there are no unexpected surprises. The kids get to eat the goodies that mom or dad prepared at home.

    Since my discovery, a few visits to the St. Vartan's play group shows a patient and overall attitude of caring within the group and the kids live up to the play group's main mission - namely, to have fun.

    Classes are scheduled depending on demand, Monday through Thursday. Class hours are 10:30AM to 1:00PM. The school term runs from September to June.

    For more information, class schedule and fees, call: (212) 447-6035.


    also see -> New York for Kids


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