Drop In And Hang Out

In only two years, the Tumbleweed Recreation Center (TRC) and Environmental Education Center (EEC) in Chandler, Ariz., have become venues for community meetings and family parties, informal gathering places and activity-filled forums for all ages. These multigenerational facilities were developed by the Chandler Community Services Department concurrently, and both held grand opening celebrations the same day–April 19, 2008.

Located in a central area of the city along a major freeway, the 62,000-square-foot TRC features a 6,000-square-foot fitness center with more than 44 pieces of exercise equipment, an indoor walking and jogging track, group exercise studios, gymnasium, game room, art classrooms, racquetball courts, teaching kitchen, room rentals and a childcare area.

The EEC, an 11,000-square-foot nature information facility surrounded by the 113-acre Veterans Oasis Park, features an information desk, classrooms, exhibit areas and a nature store. All classes are geared toward environmental awareness, conservation and sustainable living practices. The topics covered range from bird watching and nature photography to astronomy.

After the successful launch of both centers, staff members set their sights on creating several new types of drop-in, low-cost activities and special events tailored to specific age groups. Here’s an outline of recent programs:

Preschool Activities

Adjacent to the preschool rooms at the TRC, the Tree House drop-in childcare room is for parents using the center or taking a class. It consists of assorted toys and an interactive video game area for children old enough to participate. To further serve parents and toddlers, additional drop-in activities are now held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The first program is “Tumble Tots,” an indoor playground filled with toys and mats where parents and children under 5 years old meet new friends.

The second phase of toddler activities includes the Wednesday “Bubble Blast.” Held in an outdoor courtyard equipped with a soft “tot turf” surface conducive to running and jumping, the activity is marked by two bubble-blowing machines on tables and a CD player for background music. The program initially attracted 20 to 30 parents and toddlers, and gradually increased to more than 125. The success of this activity spurred a second option called “Bikes, Bounce & Boogie,” which is basically a bounce house surrounded by tricycles, hoops and balls with accompanying music.

Mother Nature’s Story Time

The EEC has created a weekly “Mother Nature’s Story Time” program for families, which has quickly become one of the most popular educational classes for toddlers. This is more than a standard “read-me-a-story” session; instead, children listen to an instructor read two or three books before engaging in a craft, game or guided nature walk. The books and hands-on activities all have a central theme. The most popular is the “Cactus-Tasting Party,” which proves to be a great way to teach preschoolers about this quintessential desert symbol.

Teen Activities

The TRC offers two youth and teen activity rooms–the Game Pod and Hay Loft. Teenagers looking for a place to unleash creative energy find no shortage of options with “exergaming” in the Game Pod–an arcade with Nintendo, PlayStation, Dance Dance Revolution and the basketball “pop-a-shot.” The Hay Loft is a lounge complete with air hockey, foosball and Guitar Hero.

Computers are available to surf the Internet or to do homework. A source of pride for teens is a collection of junior-high and high-school logos that adorn the walls. To leverage the popularity of these rooms, staff members have developed periodic contests in which participants earn points in different games; the winner receives a lunch pizza party at his or her school.

Green Teens

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