A moms and tots playgroup can be a lifesaver for stay-at-home moms and dads of babies and preschoolers who desperately need some company. It’s also great for children to learn and play together, too. But if there isn’t a local group near you, why not start one? It does take some time and planning, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are some tips:
Pick a location. A local church or community centre is an obvious place, but other possibilities are at a local library or even a community room in a school. Ask around to see if any local amenities would donate space for a weekly session. Consider how people will get there; is the location accessible by walking and public transit? Remember, not every parent has access to a vehicle during the day.
Next, talk with the venue to see how they can help in getting a group going. Perhaps they can provide volunteers to help organize and run it so parents can have a break (but it’s important to make sure any additional volunteers are vetted and have security clearances to work with children). Ask whether the venue’s insurance coverage and fire regulations have any restrictions that may hinder holding a playgroup there. Inspect the room to make sure it is safe for curious babies and active toddlers (no excessive electrical outlets, loose carpeting, etc.). Access to washroom facilities is a must.
Gather toys. This is easier to do if you have some assistance. A good way to get started is to solicit donations of new or nearly-new safe, age-appropriate toys from parents who would like to donate them. Make sure toys are inspected closely, and that they are cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis. A good idea is to ask permission to store them at the venue in a lockable cupboard or room reserved solely for the playgroup’s use. Donated plastic storage tubs are a real help, too.
Get the word out. Free ads in community newsletters as well as computer-printed posters in doctors’ offices, libraries and other places where parents hang out are great ways to generate interest. But never underestimate the power of word of mouth!
Keep it simple. Decide on a time you want to meet up and the length of time of your playgroup. An hour-and-a-half to two hours, either one morning or afternoon per week, is enough. Don’t worry about planning outings and elaborate activities. A good format for a playgroup is primarily free play, with perhaps a wind-down time at the end of the session with a story and some songs.
Have an area for babies to play on (with play mats or blankets for the floor) and a separate area with appropriate toys for the older children. If you decide to have snacks, a break in the middle of the session with tea/instant coffee and toast for the grown-ups, and a healthy snack, such as fruit or crackers and a drink for the kids, will suffice. Charging a nominal weekly fee, say a dollar for adults and 50 cents per child, will help pay for refreshments and consumables without being too cost-prohibitive for parents. If the venue won’t provide any supplies for your use, perhaps ask for additional donations to purchase plastic cups and plates, and an electric kettle. Also, consider using a rota system for parents so that everyone can share the set-up, snack and clean-up duties without it all becoming a burden for just one person.
Be patient. Groups take time to get going. It also takes time for parents and children to get to know one another. Don’t be discouraged if your playgroup doesn’t feel immediately successful. Keep at it! Also, remember that each group tends to have its own flavor and style. As the group gets more established, you will find out what members would like to see out of the group and what its strengths are. Go with the flow; don’t stress about the small details and just enjoy it. Remember, the purpose of playgroups is to develop relationships and build a community!
Carla is a freelance writer and mother of one son who lives in Calgary. In her spare time, she's also a part-time school assistant and community volunteer.
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