Mackenzie tentatively reaches out to touch the bright yellow and red flower of a red hot poker plant. Iker eagerly sets foot down one path after another, undeterred by a light rain, which their buddy Caleb had prepared for by wearing rubber boots.
A visit to the Norfolk Botanical Garden is just one of many adventures for the littlest kids at St. Mary’s. Fridays are field trip days for the members of Peer Play Pals. Children in the Infant and Toddler Program explore their community, along with their young friends who don’t have disabilities.
They’ve been to the new Slover Library in downtown Norfolk, the Children’s Museum of Virginia in Portsmouth and the Busch Gardens amusement park an hour away in Williamsburg, to name a few places.
The trips include activities, snacks and lunches at restaurants. Donors like you make the Peer Play Pals program possible by giving Visa gift cards that help pay for meals and gift cards to places like Build-a-Bear Workshop.
The program began as a pilot project in June 2014 as a way for kids at St. Mary’s to play with other kids their own age, in places they’d never been, said Nicole Hoskins Jones, our director of recreational therapy. Her young sons, including Caleb, also are involved.
Today, there are two groups of Peer Play Pals, kids three and younger who go on field trips on Fridays, and kids ages four to six who started with the program and are now in school but get together once a month or so.
“Kids don’t know disabilities,” Nicole said. “They’re just kids. Everybody learns from this.”