A good playgroup has benefits that go well beyond a good time on the playground. Research shows that group play helps children learn self-control as well as social skills like sharing, cooperating and turn-taking. Parents in playgroups also benefit from social interaction with other parents while the kids are having fun.
While there are more options for playgroups than ever before, you can pick the right playgroup the first time (or if you’re setting up your own, help it be successful). Find leads for playgroups through free resources like local message boards, bulletin boards in the library or your local community center, through your house of worship, or even your doctor’s office.
Although there are no hard and fast rules for a successful playgroup, it’s best to limit playgroup sizes to about 15 kids. Too many kids and playtime can become unruly. Too few and the group will be canceled every time someone gets sick. Don’t be shy about trying out several playgroups until you find a good fit for you and your child.
Other factors to consider include:
- The ages of the children in the group.
- How often it meets.
- Whether attendance is mandatory or optional.
- How structured the activities are.
- How convenient the location is to your home or workplace.
- Whether the personalities of the other parents mesh well with your own.
If you can’t find a suitable playgroup in your area, consider starting one yourself. Carren Joye, author of A Stay-at-Home Mom’s Complete Guide to Playgroups, suggests seven steps for setting up a playgroup, including:
- Decide whether you want to establish a children’s playgroup, a parent’s group, or a combination.
- Determine the desired age range for the children in the playgroup. Do you want to limit the group to infants, toddlers, and/or preschoolers?
- Limit the number of participants.
- Decide how active you want your playgroup to be. Will children engage only in free-form playtime or structured activities, up to or including field trips?
- Choose the day and time your group will meet.
- Select a location.
- Find other parents who have similar interests in a playgroup.
- Group play helps children learn self-control as well as social skills.
- Look for playgroups on message boards, community centers and even your doctor’s office.
- Consider location, frequency of meeting and how many kids are in a playgroup before joining.
- If playgroups don’t meet your standards or there isn’t one near you, don’t hesitate to start your own.