The Northampton Parents Center: A Welcoming Oasis For Families with PreK Kids

An Almost Farewell Ode to the Northampton Parents Center

Theo, my youngest child, turns five in a just two months. The fall will mark the beginning of his school career as I send him off to kindergarten each day. No longer will I have long stretches of morning or afternoon to fill with a small person. While at times I cannot wait for our new reality to begin, I’m going to allow myself a moment of nostalgia here with you. Having a child under 5 has been part of my identity for nearly 12 years. When my oldest son Isaac turned 5, I had a new baby. When Henry turned 5, I had a three year old. Now this smallest one is growing out of library story times and play gyms. We went to the Hampshire Regional YMCA last week to enjoy the under 5 open playtime and Theo was checked at the door. He is still eligible, but he is towering over the other kids. Of course, they let us in, but I was surprised at my reaction. I didn’t realize how big he looks to everyone else. He is still my littlest one.

Since Theo has been in afternoon preschool this year, we discovered the Northampton Parents Center, three large rooms located in the basement of Edwards Church.  Sometimes we go multiple times in a week — other times we are absent for days or weeks at time. But the Northampton Parents Center is always there for us. Theo is aging out of it quickly. I’m perpetually asking him to watch out for littler children — and he does quite nicely, but I see how tall and big he looks. He is craving the company of other kids these days more and more.

In the winter time, I feel like hibernating. This month has brought snow upon snow, parking bans, school delays and cancellations. The Parents Center stays open as much as possible. Theo enjoys the riding toys the most  — they are all set up in the church basement to go around the loop with gym mats and pop-up tents in the middle of this preschoolers’ roundabout. He loves having a place to go move his body — to jump and shout.

The second room is more subdued for when we are in a laid back frame of mind.  The room is set up with a rice table, homemade playdough brought in by parents, puppet theater, and wooden train track. Mostly, it is full of kids and their caregivers. I can take my knitting, drink some tea, chat with moms, dads, grandparents (all of us this winter overwhelmed by the snow removal), shaking our heads at how much it does take to wear these kids out.

Swansea Benham Bleicher, the coordinator of the Northampton Parents Center, manages to learn the names of all these kids who drop in and out, some hardly pausing to draw breath. She is welcoming to all families and takes time to get to know everyone. There is coffee, tea, and snacks for kids and grown-ups. She runs a brief circle time at the end of every playtime. The kids shout out for their favorite songs. Theo loves the Go Bananas song. Thursdays includes a music class — it can be busy, but if your kid loves to sing or dance, it’s worth it.

Both room have baby safe zones, so if your little one needs to get down and crawl, their are spots set up for them to explore where they will be safe from trike driving preschoolers.

I can hardly believe Theo is about to age out! I can’t wait to go back with friends and their small ones just to visit. The unstructured playtime gives kids the perfect amount of freedom to explore and play while parents connect, warm up and forget about being stuck in the house for a while.

The best way to find out more about the Northampton Parents Center is to visit.  Located at 297 Main St. (lower level), the Parents Center is open Monday-Thursday from 9:30-11:30am, whenever Northampton public schools are in session. Kids 0-4 with their caregivers are invited. I know you will get a warm welcome.

This Saturday, February 12th, 2011 from 4-7pm, visit the Northampton Parents Center for a free potluck dinner and family fun night!  Bring a dish to share, and prepare for an eventful evening!  NPC music teacher Felicia Sloin will perform at 5:30pm.


Karen Bayne

Karen grew up in Manhattan and lived in Connecticut before moving to Northampton with her husband Matt to raise their boys. Her sons Isaac, Henry and Theo are 11, 6 and 4,  leaving Karen on a search for all the “just right adventures” that will wow them and wear them out.  She works as a birth doula, childbirth and parent educator in the greater Northampton area. She writes about mothering at Needs New Batteries and about birth in our culture at Gentle Balance Birth.

Northampton Parents Center Turns 25!

Northampton Parents Center
25th Anniversary Fundraising Concert
Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Jay Mankita is a touring songwriter, an internationally recognized recording artists and a local dad. Join him on Saturday, October 16th at a fundraising concert for the Northampton Parents Center. Click on flyer to see larger image.

Northampton Parents Center is having a 25th Anniversary Fundraising Concert with Putumayo recording artist, Jay Mankita, Saturday, October 16th, at 4 pm in the upstairs of Edwards Church.  Everyone is welcome – the whole community is invited! A sliding scale donation is suggested, but  not required.  Please come celebrate music for the whole family with the Northampton Parents Center!


Northampton Parents Center is a nonprofit cooperative drop-in site for children (birth to kindergarten) and their caregivers. Since 1985, Northampton Parents Center (NPC) has provided a safe, nurturing environment for families with young children to socialize. Open Monday through Thursday 9:30 to 11:30 am, mid September to late May. Located in the lower level of Edwards Church at the corner of Main and State Streets in Northampton — entrance on State Street. Generously supported by Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Edwards Church, and partially funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care administered by Collaborative for Educational Services and Northampton Public Schools.

Celebrate the Week of the Young Child, April 10th-18th

Celebrate the Week of the Young Child
April 10th-18th, 2010 in Northampton

Northampton joins hundreds of local organizations around the country that will celebrate the Week of the Young Child, which honors the more than 35 million children from birth through age eight in America, and the families, teachers and other adults who help children make the most of the opportunities of their early years.

The Week of the Young Child is a chance to celebrate the learning opportunities of young children, and to recognize the responsibilities we share for helping them make the most of the early years. Our local celebration of the Week of the Young Child is designed to build broader support for early childhood programs that nurture young children’s early learning and growth.

Northampton will celebrate “The Week of the Young Child” from April 10th-18th, 2010, with the twentieth annual Children’s Art Exhibit and a free Children’s Festival. The events are sponsored by the Northampton Community Partnerships for Children (CPC), with participation from early care and education providers, the Northampton Public Schools, the Northampton Parents Center, and family support agencies.

Over 30 local businesses in downtown Northampton and Florence will display artwork by children who attend local preschools, childcare centers and the Northampton Public Schools. The children and their teachers are very proud of their work — please take the time to check it out! The Art Exhibit will be on display through April 18th.

The Children’s festival is on Saturday, April 10 at the Jackson Street School in Northampton from 10:00 AM – noon. There will be lots of great, free activities for young children – games, climbing, tunnels, crafts, stories, and more! Also, we will have a fire engine and school bus to visit! And there is nothing to spend money on! Local agencies serving families will also have information available.

For more information, contact Barbara Black at 413-587-1471 or

Annual NPC Preschool Fair in Noho on Thursday, 01/14/10

Swansea Benham Bleicher of Chesterfield, MA writes:

The Northampton Parents Center is having its annual Preschool Fair this Thursday, January 14th, at the Parents Center from 9:30 to 11:00 am. Snow date is January 21st. Representatives from area preschools will be on hand to answer your questions. Located in the lower level of Edwards Church at the corner of Main and State Streets in Northampton, MA — entrance on State Street. Everyone is welcome! For more information go to the Parents Center website:

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Open House: Area Family Centers

Open House at 8 Area Family Centers
Bring your children, birth to age 5!

Click to discover more!

Corky Klimczak, HCFN Coordinator writes:

Please help the Hampshire County Family Network [HFCN] publicize our Fall Open House. Each of the 8 family centers – Amherst, Belchertown, Cummington, Easthampton, Gateway, Northampton, South Hadley, and Ware – will host its own open house celebration sometime between October 3rd and October 10th. The dates and listing of special events at each Open House is on [this] flyer. Please print, post, and circulate this flyer … so that we can get the word out to as many people as possible.

Discover more about our area Family Centers.

Family Centers Offer More Than Drop-In Playgroups

Area Family Centers Offer Refuge for Parents with Babies & Toddlers

CCL (c)When my daughter was a baby I found sanctuary in our area family center. I was able to meet other sleep deprived mothers in a safe environment where we could breastfeed freely and compare notes while our children took their first steps. I formed everlasting bonds with these mothers as we discussed teething and potty training, while reassuring one another that we weren’t alone in our sleepless world of spit-up and dirty diapers.

According to Hampshire County Family Network, “Family Centers are places where parents meet other parents, children socialize, and parents and children play together. A family center is a drop-in place for parents to spend time with their young children. Children can play, learn, explore, and make new friends. Parents can meet local families and talk about their children. Family centers have toys, books, and activities that young children enjoy.”

To follow is a list of Family Centers in Hampshire County. All centers receive funding from the Hampshire Educational Collaborative and support families with children up through the age of four:

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