What They Do
Developmental Play Programs For:
When walking into the world of Marianne Sutera, you feel as though you’ve entered some alternate universe of play. The bright colors of the rainbow get your initial attention, but as your eyes adjust, all the activities in the room come into view. Ladders, slides, blocks, colorful tunnels and so much more overwhelm you, but don’t stop you from diving in!
This is Purposeful Play, Sutera’s developmental play program for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers to learn and build confidence in a fun, safe environment alongside their parents.
But this world has humble beginnings. After working at Gymboree Play and Music for 28 years, Sutera wanted to continue developing programs for young children after
“That was good for a little bit, but it didn’t really meet all my needs. I missed the whole space and an ability to reach more people to take it further,” she said.
Sutera was then directed to parks and recreation, who embraced Purposeful Play and gave it the
“I love what I do. I love working with the parents and their children,” she said. “From seeing the babies just sitting up for the first time, to taking their first steps. Often it’ll be here.”
The class format is the same for each age group, beginning with a music activity in a circle. The focus for the rest of the class varies according to the different stages of child development. For example, classes for newborns provide tummy time and sensory activities, toddlers develop motor skills and spatial concepts, while older kids exercise their imagination and practice more finite skills. But given her experience, Sutera doesn’t try to impose too much structure on the children, and instead, embraces a young child’s tendency to explore.
“If there’s a kid who wants to climb up and down the ramp 20 times, then that’s what they need to do,” she said.
Sutera stressed the importance of this freedom.
“They learn so much, just by doing,” she said.
But this amazing learning experience is not only for the children. The adults also play a vital supervisory role in every Purposeful Play class.
“The children, they’re getting the best of both worlds,” she said. “They’re getting to be around other young people their age and try new activities and challenges, but with the safety and support of their grown up with them.”
It also gives the
“It’s wonderful for bonding,” said Sutera.
The parents and guardians also learn a lot seeing their child play alongside others their age.
“Why is this good for them? What are the social benefits, cognitive benefits? The children are playing, thus naturally learning.
The facilitated activities are meant not only for
The environment also forms a personal network between the parents, grandparents or nannies that bring their children to the programs.
One day, Sutera hopes to make Purposeful Play into a brand name. Still unsure of whether to open her own space for the company, she is continuing to increase its presence across Montgomery County’s many
Prospective participants can preview classes before signing up their children. They are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the Whitemarsh Parks and Recreation Center and Fridays and Saturdays at the Upper Merion Community Center. Upper Merion also hosts Purposeful Play’s early art education class called Paint and Play on Thursdays and Saturdays.
All classes take place in the morning or early afternoon between