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With couples increasingly settling for single child families, a child’s initiation into socializing and making friends has become more difficult. Playgroups are a boon that way, since they help make your preschooler gregarious and open out to other children of her own age group. Read on to know the benefits of playgroups and what you need to know before deciding to send your child to one.
A few decades ago, the concept of playgroup was unheard of. That is because there wasn’t really a need for them, with every home having at least a couple of children and a lot of children in the neighborhood, who would play together, and run freely in and out of each other’s homes and on the streets. Making friends, socializing, sharing and teamwork; therefore, came naturally to most of the children.
Today, however, the scene is different. Children hardly get to play with other children in their neighborhood, thanks to the boxed apartment houses where one hardly gets to see their neighbors. In such a scenario, playgroups have become essential to help children mingle with kids of their own age.
Generally speaking, playgroups can be categorized into two main types –
1. Initiated and Run By Parents
This is quite prevalent in a lot of countries. Mommies of a locality get together to plan and organize play dates. Here children between a specific age group, accompanied by their mothers, can play together, while the mothers watch them from a distance over a cup of coffee and chat with other mothers.
2. Facilitated By A Preschool
This kind of set up is quite common in India, where a preschool also runs a playgroup, which is almost akin to the nursery, but there is no studying. The children are made to play with various items to improve their motor skills – both gross and fine. The school organizes a plethora of activities to keep the children engaged, while children learn to make friends along with doing fun activities together.
Whether you want to become a member of a parent-run playgroup or a preschool, there are a few things to consider so that your child’s first group play experience is a pleasant one.
Check Out the Scene
If you are enrolling your child in a parent-run playgroup, checkout other members of the group to see if your child and you will be comfortable in the group. Some children tend to be too aggressive while some are shy. Some mothers have different preferences and parenting ideas than the others. It is as important for you to gel well with other mommies in the group, as your child with other children. Also consider the activities the children do together, whether there is any intervention or facilitation of activities for the children. Preschools offer facilitated play times and exclusive staff to attend the children, whereas in mommy groups, unless the mommies are making an effort to organize the tots’ playtime, it could just be free play.
Rules and Standards
No kidding! Rules and standards are as important in a playgroup environment as in any other. It is important to set the expectations from the playgroup – what will be taught, or not taught, how will aggression and fighting between the kids be handled, whether the kid is required to be potty- trained (some playgroups insist that the child should come in diapers if not potty-trained; others insist otherwise, emphasizing their staff will take care of taking the child to the bathroom at regular intervals).
Safety and Hygiene
These are the most important aspects in any environment where the child is going to be given a free rein. Ensure that the play area is padded with good quality mats to break falls, the toys are made of good materials and do not have broken or sharp edges. Ensure that the bathrooms are clean and hygienic, and children are made to wash hands after playing or before eating. Ask the facilitators how they handle accidents or mishaps; whether they have first aid and how and when do they clean the premises.
Playgroups are typically meant for children aged between 1.5 and 3, ones that are not old enough to go to school yet. The duration of playgroups should be decided by keeping in mind the capacity of these children. Ideally, a playgroup session can last for up to two hours, with a snack break, free play time and quiet time included. Children of this age do not have the attention span of more than 15 minutes, so the playgroup should include small activities with a lot of varieties in them.
Sending your child to a playgroup or not is a personal decision, one that you should take keeping in mind the social characteristics of your child. You may decide not to send your child if she already has a great group of siblings and pals at home, or you may decide to send her quite early, if she is too clingy to you and you want her to become independent. Whatever may be the case, do remember that the idea is only to get the kids interact with others like them and give them their first exposure to the outer world.