Here's a truth of parenting that isn't often acknowledged: parents need to get out more. They need to socialize with other grown ups. Sure, you might be having a ball every day, playing blocks with your little one or coming up with another menu for your pretend restaurant based out of the toyroom, but the reality is that the pair of you -- both you and your child -- need to socialize with people your own age. How? Enter the preschool playgroup.
Through a preschool playgroup, both parents and kids get the opportunity to make new friends and regularly socialize in an informal setting. Kids get to practice their burgeoning social skills -- sharing, not being so shy, cleaning up -- while the grown ups get a much-needed dose of emotional and intellectual support.
And believe me, grown ups get just as much out of the preschool playgroup as the kids do. When it came to joining a preschool playgroup, I got lucky. There was a group of us moms who used to wait together every day on my daughter's preschool pick-up line. One of the moms suggested a meet-up at a local fast food restaurant where the kids could play and the moms (and dads) could chat. Although there was a lot of, "I don't know, are you going to go?"'s, the meeting was a success. Five years later, not only is our group of ten girls still friends, so are the moms and we have a book club, dozens of huge joint family barbecues, holiday parties, a Daisy/Brownie Troop and even a few vacations together under our belt to show for it.
If there are no preschool playgroups in your area, don't worry, it's actually not to difficult to start one on your own. Here's how:
Know where to look. The first thing you'll need for your preschool playgroup are parents and kids. So where do you find them? Places where parents and kids congregate. Try hanging signs (get permission first) at the library, daycare center, preschool, church or pediatrician's office. If there are moms at the playground you are friendly with, consider approaching them to see if they would be interested in joining a playgroup.
Set a meeting time and neutral location. Unless you happen to know every person who will be attending the first get-together, pick a local spot that can hold a group -- a playground, a church hall, a restaurant -- where everyone can meet.
Figure out the rules. Some playgroups, like the one I belonged to, are very informal. Others are very structured with lots of rules and guidelines in place. Neither is right or wrong, you just need to decide what will work for your group. What is important is to figure out ahead of time what type of playgroup yours will be so there are no misunderstandings. If possible, have the first meeting without the kids. Counterintuitive as it sounds, it will let the parents iron out some basic playgroup rules without having to tend to the little ones. Things you'll want to discuss include:
- Meeting time and place
- Length of meetings
- Do you want to choose a name?
- Sensitive issues -- is someone allergic to dogs or peanuts? How will discipline be handled?
- Ages of the children and will siblings be permitted to attend
- Will you charge dues for crafts, snacks and other incidentals?
- Will there be set activities each week or is this strictly a playgroup -- a group for playing?
- Will there be a maximum number of members?
- If you are creating a group through a larger organization, MOPS for example, there may be specific guidelines that need to be reviewed.
- Any other questions or concerns that members might have
Plan the schedule and activities. If your preschool playgroup is one with a lot of variables -- you'll be meeting at a different spot each week for example, you'll want to set the schedule at least three weeks ahead of time so folks know how to plan. If your group will strictly be a PLAYgroup, then you may still want to do a little advance planning -- singing songs or dancing, doing a simple craft, having a snack -- these are all activities that are fun for little ones while encourage socialization. Consider scheduling an outing every once in a while. It might be fun as a group to visit a zoo or library.
Keep the purpose of the group in mind. Sometimes playgroups get mired in grown-up drama and politics. Try to rise above the fray and remember why you are all there -- so you and your children can have fun!