By the time your child is three or four years old, he/she will most likely have a strong interest in playing with friends. You can accomplish this through inviting a friend over for an hour or two, inviting the friend and her mom over for an hour or two, or meeting friends and parents at the park or somewhere else fun. You can also accomplish this through a playgroup.
A playgroup also can double as a little preschool. For Kaitlyn and McKenna, we did playgroup the year before they did preschool, so two years before they started Kindergarten. They started the playgroup as three year olds and ended as four year olds. For Brinley, she started as a four year old. She is a late-summer birthday and I just was not ready for her to zip off to playgroup last year! Also, there were no other kids her age that year. They are all in Kindergarten right now and I didn’t want her young age limit what they could do with the group of kids last year.
Here are the details on how we do playgroup around here. This is not a “one way” type of a thing. Look at how we do it and then tweak it to work for you and your circumstances.
You can do any age you are comfortable with. I like 3-4 year olds. I personally want the children potty trained so their aren’t diaper changes needed and 3-4 year olds are more social with each other than two year olds are.
We have always done once a week.
TIME OF DAY
I find the morning hours to be best. This is when kids are the freshest. Afternoons get tricky for anyone who might still need a nap or some wind-down time in the afternoon. We often start at 10 AM.
This year, however, we are starting at 12:30. The reason for this is that three of the girls in the playgroup have a dance class they attend in the morning. So we do it right after lunch. This has worked well, also.
NUMBER OF CHILDREN
Playgroup seems to be best when you have 4-8 children. One year, there were only two and it still worked. You could probably go to 10-12 if all of the moms involved were comfortable managing that many children at once; preschool teachers do it all the time, but not everyone has the capability of managing that many little ones. It is further complicated if a mom has younger siblings at home, which is often the case.
Another limitation to the size of the group is the space people have in their home. How many places do they have for children to sit at a work-space and color a picture? If you have 12 children but only 8 spots to color, you will have to get creative in how you manage activities.
When we have had groups larger than the comfortable 8, we have split the group in half. In McKenna’s age group, there are a lot of children her age. We split in half and still had 8 children in her playgroup. If you have a hard time splitting, you could always have a helper mom each week. So one mom would host and another would go help.
We do playgroup for 1.5-2 hours (it has varied from year to year). Either length works. 1.5 hours is obviously a little easier to manage, but you might want a 2 hour session in order to fit more in to each day.
We start in September after Labor Day and end in May sometime before school gets out.
Each mom takes turns hosting playgroup at her house.
We started out originally alternating each week. So if we had six kids, we would go:
- Mom A
- Mom B
- Mom C
- Mom D
- Mom E
- Mom F
- Mom G
- Mom A
- Mom B
Then we heard of another idea to take months. So Mom A would take September. Mom B would take October. Mom C would take November, etc.
While our first way worked, I personally LOVE the second way. Here are some perks:
- You make plans based on similar themes. I had October this year. So I had all of these plans for week one. I had the plan and activities prepared. Well, we didn’t get through them all. So I was able to carry some over into future weeks since I had it all in the same time of year.
- You can really reinforce skills. Since I had the kids week after week, I was able to create some activities that focused on sequencing and sorting that they could do each week. Children learn through repetition, so it helped them to practice these same skills over and over.
- It gives the children more sense of consistency. Yes they move each month, but they have some consistency for each of those months.
- You don’t have to do playgroup in a busy season. I direct a musical at the elementary school. I am slammed with that from December-March. If I were rotating each week, I would have ended up having playgroup here several times during that time period. That would be quite stressful for me. I was able to do all of my days in October when I didn’t have a lot of other stressors going on.
- You take it on and then forget it. You don’t have this job that pops up every 6ish weeks. You take it on one month, then forget it. You don’t have to worry about it until your month comes up.
If you do this way, you will probably take note that you are limited by number of months. If you are running September-May, you would need 9 children.
There are ways to work around this. If you have 8 children, you can take December off. December can be a very busy month. If you had 7 children, you could take off December and May. You could run through April and then have a final party in May.
If you get creative, you can find a way to make it work for your circumstance.
Read: What To Do When Your Child Can’t Handle Playdates
OBJECTIVE OF PLAYGROUP
As you and your fellow moms plan out play group, you want to talk about what the consensus is for the objective. Do you want it to be more of a preschool set-up? Do you want it more play-based? Are you okay with each mom doing her thing?
Some people really want a lot of structure at a playgroup. Those are often moms who don’t play do to an official preschool.
Some people really prefer just playing.
All that matters is everyone is okay with what you ultimately decide.
My personal feelings on this have always been that I don’t care what direction the mom decides to take it when it is at her house. There are benefits to playing. Children do not get much opportunity to just socialize in our modern day. Even if all the children do is play, they are learning important social skills.
I personally do playgroup with a mixture when it is at my house. We do a lot of learning activities, but we also have playtime. I like about 20ish minutes of play. Maybe 30.
STRUCTURE OF PLAYGROUP
The way you structure will depend a lot on your goals and objectives. We have a letter for each week of playgroup. We will have a shape and color also. You can even assign themes, but you can let the person in charge come up with a theme if desired.
- I try to have a variety of types of activities. So a letter activity, number activity, fine motor activity, gross motor activity, etc. I try to cover it all.
- It is great to either have a coloring page or free play as children arrive.
- I like to have various activities kids who are fast can do while others are finishing up.
- I also like to include a few books that go along with our theme for the day.
- I usually end with free play.
The internet is FULL of ideas for learning activities! Turn to Pinterest. I have a blog with some ideas. I also have an eBook of learning activities, so you could have it all planned out for you!
Playgroup is a fun way for your child to learn and practice social skills. It can be a great way for you to get to know other moms better, also.
Please let me know if you have questions about any of this!