Finding the Right Playgroup
Finding a playgroup can feel overwhelming. I moved cross-country when I was six months pregnant with my twins and didn’t know a single person, let alone parent, in my new town. I spent a lot of time and energy worrying about how to choose a playgroup where both my kids and I would feel comfortable and get some much needed socialization. This is a bit of what I learned along the way.
Age Does Matter
At first, playgroups are really more for you than for your baby. During the first year, babies change dramatically from month to month. As a result, the challenges you face as a parent alter along the way. Seek out playgroups with moms in the same stages of motherhood are the most helpful in the early days.
As babies grow into toddlers, compatibility among the kids becomes more important. As much as we want to encourage our kids to be friendly with everyone, we have to remember that children are people and some people just don’t get along. I used to attend an informal weekly playgroup with 7-10 kids. Around the time our kids turned 3, their friend preferences started to become clear. Some kids were more physical and enjoyed wrestling together, while others preferred calmer play. The playgroup dissolved organically at that point.
Formal or Informal
A structured playgroup, with clear guidelines, helps make sure everyone is on the same page. There is a facilitator who is directing play, setting up activities, and responsible for rule enforcement. In an unstructured playgroup, everything is a cooperative effort among parents. It’s usually hosted in one parent’s home without a schedule or stated rules. Find where you feel most comfortable – which may change over time.
Personally, I loved formal playgroups when my twins were babies with a strict nap schedule. As they have gotten older, I have become more flexible with my schedule and appreciate informal playgroups where no one blinks an eye if I show up 15 minutes late.
Remember, a playgroup is supposed to make your life easier. Try several different playgroups, in various locations, with a range of structures. Be careful not to confuse having a bad day with a bad fit. And above all, if you and your child are not having a good time – leave. As this article in Parents Magazine points out, playgroups are not for everyone.
Ali Smith-Poe is a freelance writer and mom.
Other posts by Ali Smith-Poe