Playgroups are a great way to get children of all ages together for some fun playtime. 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 from getting involved in playgroups.
Whether your children are older or you have young toddlers, there are ways that they can all benefit from play dates with other children. Once children are a year old, it helps to start getting them around other people for playgroups. While children under the age of three generally engage in parallel play, rather than being interactive with other children, groups can still be beneficial for them. Children older than three get a chance to play and interact with others. It’s a great opportunity for them to learn to share and take part in group activities.
Children need to learn how to get along with other people, and playgroups are a great way to start them on that path. The children get a chance to practice their social skills and have fun at the same time. However, that doesn’t mean it will be all fun and games.
‘Parents need to have realistic expectations about little ones getting along,’ says Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a psychologist and author of the book ‘What About Me? Twelve Ways to Get Your Parents’ Attention without Hitting Your Sister’ (Parenting Press, 2005), and ‘The Unwritten Rules of Friendship: Simple Strategies to Help Your Children Make Friends’ (Little, Brown, 2003). ‘It’s normal for very young children to ignore each other, to snatch toys, and to cry when they don’t get what they want.’
Understanding that there may be problems can help you work to prevent them from happening and to deal with them if they do. Although young children often have a hard time sharing, they may be able to understand the concept of taking turns. Groups like this are great for helping children begin to understand the concepts of taking turns and following directions. When young children get frustrated, they may resort to hitting, pushing, or biting. Preventing such problems before they start is the key. When you see a child getting frustrated, try to step in with a new activity, provide a healthy snack or physically separate the children.
Parents Do Benefit
‘Parents can definitely benefit from play dates for young children,’ says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. ‘Besides providing the camaraderie of other parents, play dates are also 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 behaviour.’
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; a good range for children under three would be no more than two hours at once. When it comes to deciding what to do during that time, keep in mind that the activities should be something that will involve all the children and should be kept age-appropriate. You can plan field trips, create themed play dates or have treasure hunts. No matter what type of playgroup you plan, make sure you have fun.
‘Children under the age of three in playgroups have the opportunity to explore new areas in their environment,’ explains Suzanne Reszka, the lead teacher at People’s Church Preschool, located in East Lansing, Mich. ‘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 areas that are good for this age group are activities that involve large motor skills, as well as playing with music and finger play.
‘Children over the age of three 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 behaviour, they will pick up on that and become frustrated, as well. Have fun and they will have fun, too.
‘Play dates are very exciting for young children,’ says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. ‘But focus on keeping them short. Shorter play dates work better.’
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Dr. Kennedy-Moore’s Play Date Disasters Rules
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 him or her a safe distance away.
Refusing to share – Before the playgroup starts, 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.