Extraordinary Child plans playtime for children with disabilities

Extraordinary Child plans playtime for children with disabilities

SMITHFIELD - Creating a space for children with disabilities and their families to play in sensory-rich environments, Extraordinary Child has opened at 3 Industrial Drive, Unit A.

Executive Director Jennifer Gingras, the Cumberland mother of a 10-year-old son with Asperger's Syndrome and an 8-year-old daughter with developmental delays, started the nonprofit organization in 2008.

She and a team have been working since then to acquire space to make her vision a reality.

"We have enough to get us started," Gingras said. "This will transform as we fundraise. We hope to expand in the future."

A soft opening of the Smithfield location was held in April, and a grand opening is planned for June.

The space has areas for fine motor skill work and imaginative play. There is a gross motor skill area decorated with a jungle mural, which has a pillow pit and stability balls. Eventually, it will have a small trampoline.

There is a quiet room, painted a soft blue, where children can relax or read underneath the dim lighting, soothing music and weighted blankets.

An art room has a whiteboard and a magnetic chalkboard painted on the walls. There are buckets of sensory materials like beans, cornmeal, moon sand and rice, with which children can play.

Secretary Kerry Bozek, whose 9-year-old daughter Erika is autistic, said Extraordinary Child is a pioneer in the field.

"It's a place we wish we had," she said.

Families may find their children open up more in a space created just for them. One 4-year-old shocked his mother at the open house event, Gingras said.

"He was doing things his mother had never seen and she had tears in her eyes," she said. "It just really, really melted our hearts. Creating those smiles is what it's all about."

Employee Tina Pedersen said she appreciates helping others navigate the space.

"It's so great going to work every day knowing you're going to benefit a child for the rest of their life."

There are no age restrictions, Gingras explained, because children can be at varying biological and cognitive ages. Toddlers and preteens alike can have fun, she said, and perhaps even teenagers who are mentally younger.

What she does know is that her children can spend a whole day at Extraordinary Child and not once complain about being bored.

"For my children, that's huge," she said.

Parents are responsible for their children at this pay-per-use facility, but there will be scheduled events for special projects, as well as parent support groups and educational sessions. Extraordinary Child will also host birthday parties.

Brannon's Fishing Derby, named for Gingras' son, will be held on Saturday, June 1, from 8 to 11 a.m. at Stump Pond to benefit Extraordinary Child. Refreshments will be available, but participants should bring their own bait. Cost is $20 per family.

There will also be monthly fundraising dinners planned, tentatively on the last Wednesday of every month, at different restaurants in the area.

Until the space fully opens in June, check www.facebook.com/extraordinarychild for daily hours and whether appointments are necessary. Visit www.extraordinarychild.org or call 401-349-5251 for more information.