BELFAST, Maine — As dozens of children raced around the gym Saturday at the Waldo County YMCA, it looked as if they had just one thing on their minds: having fun.
But the organizers of the 23rd annual combined Healthy Kids Day and Child and Parent Day said that there is something serious happening during all that playtime — kids and their parents, more than 300 people in total, learning together about how to be more healthy.
From bicycle safety demonstrations to fitness activities to information about car seats for kids, the learning happened at the same time as the fun.
Betty Schopmeyer, the education director at the Penobscot Marine Museum, said that she was definitely making efforts to slip some learning in while kids worked on arts and crafts projects at her table, painting lighthouses and lobster buoys all kinds of brilliant colors.
“I make sure everybody knows what a lobster buoy is,” she said. “And we talk about how, in the old days, keepers would walk up the lighthouses and light the lights by hand.”
Nathan Ashey, 5, of Searsport, had painted his own lighthouse and was waiting for it to dry. He said that the arts and crafts activities, and the chance to dress up as a soldier, were among his highlights.
“They have great ideas, lots of wonderful ideas,” his mom, Danielle Ashey, said of the event.
She said that she wanted to get Nathan more involved in what’s going on in the community, and she’s “very happy” she did.
“I would come again,” Danielle Ashey said.
According to Patrick Walsh of Belfast’s Child and Parent Council, that is just the right kind of response. The event was started by the council in 1988 to mark Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month in April.
“During the first few years we used the event to make a connection with child abuse prevention, but eventually the day evolved into an effort to celebrate after a long winter and bring families together for a celebration,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Over the years, hundreds of people have helped to make the day happen, and recently the council has collaborated with the YMCA and fused the event with the organization’s observance of Healthy Kids Day.
Some exhibitors acknowledged that parents can use a little help to make the best decisions for their kids.
Dawn Bryant of Waldo CAP said that she is a certified child passenger safety technician, and that she knows that 95 percent of people do not use their car seats correctly.
“Most people don’t know that car seats expire,” she said while providing information about how to make carrying young passengers safer. “They also don’t know the guidelines or the laws.”
Kids are more likely to get hurt in an accident if the seats are improperly anchored or they are not wearing properly-fitted harnesses, she said.
Meanwhile, Ada Curry, 4, of Belfast, seemed to be much more concerned with running and playing than with car seats. Her mom, Chris Goosman, watched Ada slide, run and roll around the gym and showed off her craft project made with shaving cream and paint.
“This is all play today,” Goosman said.