Kids 'N Care

The ABCs of Playgroups

by Jacqueline Bodnar

Playgroups are a great way to get children of all ages together for some fun. With a little bit of planning, it’s easy to set the right mood and help everyone have a great time. Children and parents alike benefit.


Tips To Start a Playgroup

First, get an idea of the group's structure. Who will be invited to join? How big will it be? How often and at what times will it meet? What will it focus on?

Think about membership rules, such as whether everyone must attend at least one playgroup per week and if there will be security measures. Some groups arrange a phone call between the group leader and a parent wanting her child to join. Others ask parents to attend a meeting before joining.

After you get a couple of others interested, you can all finalize what days and times are good for the children to meet and begin making arrangements. Set up a way for group parents to communicate regularly and to arrange play dates. One way to communicate is through groups. (See below.)

Once you have created the group, you might want to find additional members by advertising in your area. You can do this through websites, message boards and even grocery store bulletin boards.

Playgroup Disasters Rules

Psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore offers this list of playgroup pitfalls and how to handle them.

Hitting and biting. This is usually a response to frustration. The best strategy is prevention. Keep a close eye on the children during the playgroup and be ready to step in and move a frustrated child safely away.

Refusing to share. Put away special toys. Most kids find it easier to take turns than to share.

Not playing together. Encourage joint play, but don't insist on it. Many young children enjoy parallel play more than cooperative play. Some children need time to feel comfortable with new playmates.

Dislike of snack. Don't stress. They can eat when they get home.

Your home is trashed. Incorporate a regular clean-up time as the last part of the playgroup. Put on lively music and have everyone pitch in.

Crying at the end. Consider a shorter session next time or a different time of day.

Plagroup Websites

On these websites you can find playgroups to join or list yours for others to join.

Whether your children are older or toddlers, they can gain from play dates and playgroups withother children. Once children are 1 year old, it helps them to start playing with other kids. Although children under age 3 generally engage in parallel play, rather than being interactive with others, groups can still benefit them. Groups give children older than 3 a chance to play and interact with others. It’s an opportunity for them to learn to share and take part in group activities.

Understanding that there may be problems can help you to prevent them and to deal with them if they do arise. Although young children often have a hard time sharing, they may be able to understand the concept of taking turns. Playing with others helps children begin to understand how to take turns and follow directions.

However, when young children get frustrated, they may resort to hitting, pushing, or biting.Preventing such problems before they start is the key. (See sidebar.) When you see a child getting frustrated, try to step in with a new activity, provide a healthy snack, or physically separate the children.

Playgroups, says Dr. Kennedy-Moore, are “a great opportunity to observe other children. Seeing that everybody else’s kid does it too can help parents feel more confident in their own parenting abilities and more accepting of their child’s developmentally normal behavior.”

Planning Is Key
Keep in mind that having fewer children present will help keep things calmer. Another good way to avoid meltdowns is to keep the visits short.

Children under age 3 usually can handle no more than two hours at once. When deciding what to do during that time, remember that the activities should involve all the children and should be age-appropriate. You can plan field trips, create themed play dates or have treasure hunts. No matter what type of group you plan, make sure you have fun.

“Children under age 3 in playgroups have the opportunity to explore new areas in their environment,” explains preschool teacher Suzanne Reszka. “As they explore these new areas, they become more independent. Their emotional, social and language skills develop, and their feelings of self-esteem increase.”

For this age group, Reszka recommends planning events around sensory activities, such as water play, textured blocks and playing dress-up. Other good areas for this age group are activities that involve large motor skills, as well as playing with music and finger play.

“Children older than age 3 will develop in social and emotional areas and in language, as well,” says Reszka. “They will have the chance to interact with their peers, learn how to handle a variety of situations and begin to develop problem-solving skills. These children will love to build with blocks, paint, play in sand, and play learning games.”

Remember, if your child sees you getting frustrated at some of the children’s behavior, he could pick up on that and become frustrated as well. Have fun and he will have fun, too.

Jacqueline Bodnar is a freelance writer.