Casselberry play lounge teaches children -- and parents

Amaya Papaya Play Lounge seeks to strengthen families

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CASSELBERRY, Fla. – If your child is too young for traditional school, you may wonder how to teach them important concepts in science, technology, engineering and math.

At Amaya Papaya Play Lounge, in Casselberry, children up to the age of 5 can enjoy a hands-on, enrichment program called Amaya Papaya University.

Owner Yolonda Tyler said the idea for Amaya Papaya University came from observing parents during playtime.

"I would see parents come into the space and they would play with their kids or watch their kids play, but they weren't really sure what was happening with the kids while they were playing," Tyler said.

Each day features a different theme, such as movement, music, sensory play, art and story time. Tyler is quick to emphasize that she doesn't consider herself a teacher but more of a facilitator, encouraging parents to become the teachers.

"So if you're a parent and you kind of feel like your child is not ready for things, such as painting, then they're not ready. However, if you're ready to step out of your comfort zone and put your child into situations we kind of present for you, then they are ready," she said.

Mom Ashley Bickerstaff regularly goes to Amaya Papaya with her two children. 

"I came here as a mother who had no idea how to mother, and I watched other moms and how they interacted with their children, and Yolonda helped us learn how to play with our children."

Ashlei King said Amaya Papaya's sensory play not only helps her son with sensory issues but also gives her an advantage as she prepares to homeschool him.

"Being able to see what Yolonda has done herself gives me some stepping stones into being able to teach him myself from home," she said.

Tyler said the mission of Amaya Papaya is not only to teach children but to build a community for the entire family.

"It becomes kind of lonely being a parent. We are busy trying to raise these little people, these little humans, so sometimes it's hard to reach out or sometimes we feel like people may not understand," Tyler said. "They may not know anyone when they come in at first, but they begin making these friends that they gather with outside of here and now they have community that provides support for them."

Tyler said her goal is to create a nonprofit so that she can take Amaya Papaya University to communities in need.

Amaya Papaya University is offered every weekday at 10:30 a.m. and is included in admission to the lounge.

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