Playgroups are a great way to give your child some socializing opportunity before school starts. Social skills are very important skills to develop. "In the olden days," Kindergarten was a lot about social skills and a little about academics. These days, Kindergarten is a lot about academics and very little about social skills. Teachers just don't have time to teach the curriculum and social skills all in one school year.
This is really too bad; social skills are vitally important for success in life. Knowing this, we parents can and should do things to help our children learn social skills. There are a lot of good skills that are best learned in a group environment, and with peers who will stand up to you. A playgroup is a great way to accomplish this.
There are so many ways to make a playgroup work. I will share how we do things around here and you can take that and tweak it so you make it work for you.
A note before I go forward. Some of you probably have children who are past the age to really do a playgroup and might be now going into guilt-trip yourself mode. Know that Brayden (my oldest) never did a formal playgroup and he is just fine. Not the perfect social guy, but not lost forever either. There are lots of ways to work social skills into your day, and playgroup is just one of them. I will say, though, that I will be sure to do a playgroup with McKenna after doing one with Kaitlyn.
The first question you might ask is at what age do I do a playgroup? Of course this gets the response of "whenever you and those you are doing it with want to"--but I will naturally provide you with my own thoughts on it.
I do it the year before preschool, which I do the year before Kindergarten. So for us, playgroup is as a 3/4 year old.
There are major benefits to this age range. One is that most 3/4 year olds will be good for other people most of the time. That means that when it is your turn to host playgroup, you will have 5-6 children who listen relatively well. Imagine chasing 5-6 two year olds around....just close your eyes. Multiply your two year old by 5 and let your mind go with it....
See? 3/4 sounds nice, right?
Another benefit is that most 3/4 year olds are potty trained. Parents can have their child go potty before leaving the house and then again when they get home. Sure, some will need to use the potty while at playgroup, but it actually is rare. Plus, you won't be changing 5-6 dirty diapers...again, a nice perk to the 3/4 year old age group.
If you wanted to do a playgroup for two year olds, I would suggest you at least start the process with the moms all there the whole time--but that is more of a play date--which is a fabulous thing to do for children.
Another benefit of the 3/4 year old is that they are less selfish than a toddler and are capable of putting the "why" we do what we do into their brains. They are better prepared to go play without and adult watching and correcting every bad choice because they are able to make a lot of good choices on their own.
A personal reason I like 3/4 is that I like my kids to be home with me under my influence the vast majority of the time until they are 3. Once they hit three, I am more willing to let them play without me around because I know they are capable of some moral reasoning. Up until that point, I want to be that voice in their head teaching them right and wrong. Plus, they are little for only so long. Once they are gone, they start being gone more and more. I know I might sound crazy, but it is honest and I am always honest :)
Frequency is up to you. We do once a week. Again, I am taking baby steps on letting my kids be away from me. With once a week, the kids look forward to it. They don't get burnt out by leaving home too often.
We take turns which house it is at. We rotate through the children, so in a playgroup of five kids, you host it once every five weeks.
We do 1.5 hours--from 10-11:30. It is a perfect length for doing a short lesson, some fun learning activity, read a couple of stories, have free playtime, and a snack. They don't get bored, which is good. A group of bored children turns into a group of bored fighting and destructive children. I think you could reasonably do two hours and make it work, also. That might be nice for other moms because it would give them more time to get things done while the child is gone.
Another major question with playgroup is what do you do?
There are lots of options. We went through and did one letter a week, then when letters were done, we did colors. You could mix colors and shapes to cover more content, too.
So what I do is look at what the letter is and choose a theme to go with that letter. For example, my first week was "D" so I did Dinosaurs.
The format I do looks like this:
- Start by reading a book that goes along with the chosen theme
- Next, do a learning activity that goes along with the chosen theme. So for dinosaur week, I buried dinosaurs in the sandbox and we excavated them.
- I also have a coloring page relevant to the theme on hand in case a child is super fast and needs something else to do. At the beginning of the year, attention spans were shorter so the coloring page helped give us another activity to do. By the end of the year, coloring pages were rarely needed.
- I might throw other activities in there. I like to try to cover a gross motor activity, fine motor, letter, etc.--but most people don't want to take things that far.
- Next is free play.
- Then we do a snack. I try to make it coordinate with the theme if possible, but young children rarely appreciate the gesture, so you don't need to worry about doing this :)
- Then I read another story or two until it is time to go home.
A note on letters, children don't need to learn the letters in alphabetical order--especially when you are doing it all a week apart. When creating your calendar, I suggest assigning letters to weeks that will work for themes going on at the time. For example, doing "L" in the fall for Leaves or "L" around Valentines for love. "P" for Pumpkins, "T" for turkey, "S" for snow, "R" for reindeer...
So who do you have in your playgroup?
First, I suggest you have children who are all close to the same age. We have children ranging from November of 06 baby to July of 07 baby. Let me tell you, there is a HUGE difference at this age between the November and July child, in every way. The November child started playgroup knowing all of her colors, letters, shapes, etc. She had a great attention span. The July child started not identifying any, and to get him to sit still for five minutes was an accomplishment.
There are some children who are mature for their ages and children who are a little immature for their ages. Sometimes you can mix school years, but for the most part, things will go more smoothly the closer in age you can keep the children. It is hard to have activities stimulating enough for the older kids and not over the heads of the younger children. This is a challenge teachers, especially teachers of the young grades, are familiar with, so if there are moms with teaching experience, this will be old hat for them.
I also suggest you try to find moms who have the same vision of playgroup that you do. Some might be more relaxed and just want to let the group of kids get together and play for the whole time. Others might want it more structured like school--have it be a pre-pre-school situation. Make sure the parents all are on the same page and upfront about what playgroup will look like at their house so parents all know what they are agreeing to.
It might even be a good idea to find a group of 10 moms who want to do playgroup and splitting into two groups of five based on ages and playgroup preference--if you can do so without hurting feelings.
|An extra activity we did at one playgroup--pin the nose on the pumpkin|