How I Started My Own Fulfilling Playgroup
Within a few weeks of moving to Bay Area with my 6 month old daughter, I was feeling a bit isolated and felt pulled to start a weekly routine that we both enjoyed. I visited library story times and some pretty parks, and joined a weekly playgroup in my neighborhood. For a homebody like me, I really had to motivate myself to venture out! I'm so glad I did. Though I still felt like something was missing.
Are you part of a playgroup already, and does it feel fulfilling for you and your child(ren)? If not, can you form a playgroup yourself in a nearby park or in your home? For me, I figured out that what I really wanted was a playgroup where likeminded moms let their babies play and socialize in an authentic and child-led way.
I eventually created my own playgroup with this in mind, and kept it going for years because of the enthusiastic response I received and the kindred spirits I met. I thought I'd share a how-to for anyone interested in forming their own fulfilling playgroup.
Your tribe awaits!
find members for your group
I originally started my group on Meetup.com, which was before Facebook started forming "Group" pages. Either platform could work, or you might already have some friends with children in a similar stage of development. Meetup.com has a yearly fee, but I found it was worth how easily mothers in my area found me. I advertised my group as "Play-Based Playdates," and described it as a child-led playgroup for pre-crawling babies.
What key words are important for you, so that likeminded moms can find you? The key words I used when advertising was “RIE-inspired” and “play-based.” Once my pre-crawling baby became a toddler, I preferred to meet with other toddlers and their moms, because it's easier to have children meet in similar stages of development. Many of the moms who joined were like-minded and with children in similar stages of development, but we all had our own ways of doing things, and differing personalities. The variety of woman and babies made it all the more interesting!
Where and when to Meet
I normally scheduled our playgroup from 10-11:30am, and either at my home or at the park. I learned that it doesn't matter when you schedule the playgroup, somebody is always napping. It's easier to find a time that works for your own schedule and those who can join will. If you plan to meet at your home, make the space comfortable and baby proofed and with a variety of clean, simply toys to explore. If you’ll meet at a park, lay down a blanket under a tree and provided toys as well, and encouraged moms to bring their own toys too if they'd like.
Set Some Guidelines
I normally had 2-5 moms with their babies meeting with me each week. When new members joined, I'd give a brief overview for what to expect for the next 1.5 hours: 1. Quiet observation for 15-20 minutes, 2. Discussion + socialize 3. Snack time.
As your group gets to know each other, you may want to ask what others are comfortable with. For my group, we agreed that allowing babies to touch each other was positive, but stopped any hitting, pulling hair, or hurting one another in a matter of fact and non-judgemental tone of voice. If one baby was exploring in a rough way, we'd lightly stroke their arms or cheeks and say, "gentle." We also became confident to try out sportscasting toy struggles, and were pleasantly surprised by how often babies and toddlers worked out it out without any further intervention (rather than "so and so had it first"). It felt so good to see it play out with our own children, rather than in books.
1) Start With A Quiet Observation Period (10-15 min)
Quietly observing babies and toddlers play can feel unusual for a playgroup, but it's well worth it! You’ll find that the most magic happens during this time, and that children start to engage with toys and their peers in the most memorable ways. As a mother, I felt like I was discovering my baby for who she really was. When new moms join the group, you may want to model a relaxed attitude and confidence in this process. When adults are quiet, babies and toddlers are less overwhelmed and play much more naturally. You may also find that toddlers test limits much more when you’re busy chatting away.... (I'm sure you've already noticed this!).
2) End With Discussion, Socializing, and Snacks
It's lovely to hear what other moms are discovering about their own babies and toddlers at playgroups, and we normally would share this in a circle in an open and warm way. Leave plenty of time for socializing at the end, and provide a shared snack for both moms and children.
I hope you enjoyed this post! I'd love to know: would you like to start your own playgroup? What would you like to include in your playgroup, and what guidelines might you have?
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With love and respect,