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Simple Mom-Tested Secrets for Setting Up Successful Play Groups
By Dr. Michele Borba

Excerpt from 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know: Getting Back to Basics and Raising Happy Kids by Michele Borba (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2006)

Did you know that studies find playgroups are one of the best ways for kids to learn friendship-making skills as well as build their self-esteem? Though there is bit of organization and parental planning involved, there are so many rich social benefits for youngsters that playgroups are expanding from coast to coast. Each of my sons was in a playgroup, which met twice a week to play and do activities together. We alternated at the children's homes. My boys couldn't wait for playgroup, and believe me I was just as excited. This was the time I got to see the other mothers, even if it was just for a few minutes. On many a day, a few of us moms remained chatting away in the driveway after we dropped off our kids with our infants in strollers, just so happy to be in another grownup's company. Many of those women became some of my closest friends. The truth is playgroups are great for kids--as well as their moms.

So whether you're wondering how to start a playgroup or improve the one your child is already in, here are a few important secrets I've learned to ensure it is successful as well as fun.

  • Find one other interested mom. If you already have a group of kids in mind, just invite a few moms over to talk it through. You could also find one interested mother: she'll usually be able to suggest another interested mom to get your group started. Or make a few flyers and then post them at your church, community center, pediatrician's office, or preschool. Be sure to include your name, phone number and email address, and age of your child.

  • Hold a get acquainted session. Once you have a group, simply invite the parents over for a "get acquainted session." Beyond exchanging names, phone numbers, email addresses and home directions, it's also a time to arrange a schedule as to how you will rotate playgroup sessions, how frequently you want to meet, and discuss the kinds of activities you'd like to set up for your children.

  • Discuss mommy expectations. Talk a bit about what will be expected from the hostess or if you want to even split the obligations (for each session two parents share the duties: one can arrange the snack, while the other mom plans the activity). Keep in mind that playgroups don't have to be held in one another's homes: some playgroups find a community hall or church facility to meet in.

  • Get your child-rearing beliefs in the open. This also a time to discuss what you agree is best for your children and that includes listening to one another's philosophy of discipline. What do you do if a child bites or hits? Do you approve of disciplining one another's kids? And how will you make sure the group is playing nicely and including all the children? HINT: Don't feel you have to agree on discipline-it probably won't happen.

  • Emphasize cooperative play. Finally, what about setting a policy that television or video viewing is not an option as well as not allowing more aggressive toys such as guns and swords during playgroup? If the goal is helping the children develop cooperative, friendship-making skills, then turn off the TV and put away the Ninja swords for two hours!

  • Consider children's needs. Even at three years of age, children tend to play with the same-gender. So consider the proportions of male to female and be sensitive to the balance of the group. It's easier to plan activities if the children are close in age, skill level, and interests. Playgroups usually start at around three years of age when a child is usually capable of staying a brief time away from a parent. Children younger than three are considered a "mommy and me" group in which the parent stays the whole time with the toddler.

  • Set appropriate time length. The general length is around two hours, though you can gauge this once you get to know the children's needs. HINT: It's always better to make the session shorter than longer. Also keep in mind kid's nap schedules which can interfere with play time, so consider kids' biological clocks.

  • Agree on schedule. Playgroups usually meet on a regular basis once or twice a week. The goal is for the children to get to know each other and feel comfortable with their parents.

  • Set right size. The general advice on this one is to keep the group size small: and the younger the age of the kids, the smaller the group. For preschool age kids the maximum should be six kids per adult.

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  • Provide rosters. Each parent in the playgroup should have a roster of the names, phone numbers, and addresses of the children. Additional contacts numbers and cell phones should also be on the list as well as a medical release form for the doctor or the hospital authorizing the play group parent to use in case on an emergency. Also determine if any of the children have any allergies or fears (for instance: bee stings, peanuts, milk, dogs or loud noises). You will also want to set a "no sick child" in attendance policy. And finally: do remind one another to "safety proof" their home.

Playgroups are a wonderful chance for your child to be with other kids and participate in new activities, and develop social skills such as taking turns, sharing, cooperating and solving conflicts. But playgroups are also a chance for parents to enjoy each others' company. By following the simple secrets, your playgroup will more likely be not only be a valuable learning experience but also fun for your child as well as you.

Michele Borba, Ed.D. is a mom of three, a former teacher, and renowned educational consultant who has presented workshops to one million parents and teachers worldwide. Dr. Borba is the author of 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know: Getting Back to Basics and Raising Happy Kids (Jossey-Bass, April 2006).She is a frequent guest on Today, The Early Show, The View, and Fox & Friends. She is also the award-winning author of over 20 books including Parents Do Make a Difference, Don't Give Me That Attitude!, No More Misbehavin': 38 Difficult Behaviors and How to Stop Them, and Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me. Dr. Borba is an advisory board member for Parents.

© 2006 by Michele Borba. Permission to reprint if left intact.

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