BELFAST — Most people know Lee Parent as a graphic designer as well as a mother to two daughters. For someone who works so heavily with technology, it might be surprising to some that her new entrepreneurial venture, a play center called Kids Unplugged, is entirely free of technology.
The 2,000-square-foot space in the Reny’s Plaza of Belfast has been undergoing a soft opening this month— all designed to encourage children to use their imagination and to help parents engage in hands-on play with their children.
“As a mom, it is so important to me that my children know how to access and explore the power of their imagination,” she said. “When I was a kid we didn't have cell phones, laptops, computers or mobile apps to do the thinking or entertaining for us. We had the great outdoors as our playground and most often, cardboard boxes/duct tape was my personal form of entertainment.”
Parent also has corresponding books and products on her website that go with Kids Unplugged’s center, which outlines steps for parents on how to actively engage in play, along with guided stories, and toys and crafts that inspire imaginative thinking.
“When I was growing up, books were always my friends,” she said. “And I was really afraid that my girls wouldn’t get that as they grew up.”
Last year, she volunteered to run a gymnastics class at the YMCA in Camden when a friend suggested she open her own play center.
“About 50 people signed up for that one class and it made me realize how many parents just need something like this full time,” she said.
The play center, which has been the site of the annual Cinderella Project for the last several years, is currently being outfitted with a wall-to-wall foam block spring floor. When it is finished, it will be a multi-purpose room for gymnastics, a play space with a rock wall and indoor jungle gym equipment.
“We will be able to pull in area instructors to do dance classes, martial arts, kids parkour classes and any other physical activities that engage and ignite kids,” she said. “I see this as a facility for the community to offer a number of different classes.”
Parent is also open to renting out the space to instructors would just need a space for their own classes. “Then they can have their name and their brand on the wall.”
This model of shared space for rotating instructors has always been part of the community adult education classes in the Midcoast, but also, most recently in the way artists collaborate as well, as evidenced by the recent opening of the The Art Loft in Rockland as well as the various collaborative artist-makers spaces in Rockland.
Parent plans to host a grand opening May 27, from 3:30 to 8 p.m., as an open house with food and an invitation for kids to come play.
For more information visit: www.kidsunplugged.com
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com