Summer Playground revamped

The Merrill Park & Recreation Department’s Summer Playground program has seen some big changes this year, resulting in a greater depth of age-appropriate activities for both younger and older children.
“We restructured the whole program,” said Dawn Smith of the Park & Recreation Department. “I think it’s going to mesh into a great summer for the kids.”
For the first time this year, Summer Playground children have been separated into two age groups; 5- to 8-year-olds meet at the former DNR building off Center Avenue, and 9- to 12-year-olds meet at Stange’s Kitchenette Park. The two groups take separate field trips and have a separate slate of activities geared for their age level.
“This works out so much better for everyone involved,” Smith said.
Previously, when the program offered an activity geared for older children, the younger ones were left out. Now, both age levels have activities that they can participate in as a group.
“So far it’s working great,” Smith said. “We want to keep all of the kids active, and this way nobody misses out on anything.”
Each week has a theme and activities that go along with it. Outdoors Week, for example, included an introduction to archery for the older children. Dubbed “Badges and Bullseyes,” the lesson in archery safety was taught by Chris Hartwig, a Merrill Police officer and avid archer. Other safety classes are being offered, such as canoeing and swimming. Community volunteers are teaching some of the lessons this summer.
“We’ve outsourced a lot of the program this year, which works great,” Smith said.
The children take weekly trips to T. B. Scott Library and participate in the library’s summer program.
There are more than 70 children enrolled in the older group and more than 60 in the younger group. A total of 15 leaders supervise the two age groups.
Further fine-tuning of the program is an ongoing endeavor, Smith said.
“We see improvements every year,” she said. “It takes months to set this up.”

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