Play on the way kids

Delivering Play: CMU Program Takes Recreational Opportunities on the Road

If a truck pulling a trailer full of larger-than-life playthings pulled into your neighborhood or local park, you’d check it out right?

The pros behind Central Michigan University’s Play on the Way – Mobile Recreation program are counting on it. Managed and operated by the CMU Department of Recreation, Parks and Leisure Services, the mobile recreation unit is the first such university-based initiative of its kind in the United States.

While kids and their families are initially drawn in by items such as a giant Jenga game or oversized Slip ‘n’ Slide, the real motive behind the program is threefold: bring recreational programming to people who live in locations without access, increase the amount of time kids and families are spending outside being active, and provide CMU students hands-on experience to develop their professional and leadership skills.

It’s a tall order, but Assistant Professor Lori Irwin and Mobile Recreation Coordinator Kevin Troshak say they’ve had a great first year with lots of demand for the service. About 2,500 kids took part at local events during the 2016 inaugural summer season and another 2,500 have accessed programming during the school year.

“Our goal is to be busy year round,” Irwin said.

Kids at play on the way having a water fightThe idea for Play on the Way had been brewing for about a decade. Funding from various community partners finally made it a reality, along with administrative support for expanding university-driven community outreach efforts. In rural Isabella County, the program breathes new life into underutilized county parks while helping the 50 percent of residents who live too far away to access the city of Mount Pleasant’s parks and recreation programming. The truck and trailer are available to travel within a 30-mile radius from the CMU campus and programming is free for participants.

Through Play on the Way, Troshak and CMU students bring structured, supervised recreational opportunities to neighborhoods, parks, schools and churches. Depending on the time and location, participants might be treated to a mix of sports or other exercise and physical activities, arts, music and cultural activities, environmental and outdoor education, or games and family fun.

Irwin said every interaction is a chance to teach kids and parents new ways to engage in playful activity. Last year, many discovered trails at their local parks they had never experienced before and families who came to multiple events forged friendships. Ultimately, Play on the Way helps people put their phones down and embrace getting outside.

For CMU students who participate in service-learning projects during the school year or who work with Play on the Way during the summer, it’s a real opportunity to plan and execute programming.

“Their confidence skyrockets,” Troshak said of students. “It’s a great spot for them to think on their feet.”

Learn more about Play on the Way at their website and find out where the fun stops next by visiting the organization’s Facebook page.

Play on the Way was a 2016 Healthy Recreation Catalyst grant recipient, awarded by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in partnership with mParks. Grant applications are currently being accepted for 2017 awards through Friday, May 26, 2017.

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