Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

start your own playgroup

This playgroup generally rotates among members' yards (new toys!) with the occasional trip to a park or other destination. (Photos by Ellie White)

How to start your own playgroup: tips from a parent who did

Give your kids some socialization and new experiences without the commitment and structure of preschool.

Our twin toddlers were 2½, and September was approaching.

I didn’t feel ready for the structure and commitment of a preschool or coop, but I really wanted my kids to have some opportunity to interact with other kids and try out new activities.

So, I thought, why not start an informal playgroup?

I shared the idea with some local friends who have a schedule similar to ours. A few people were interested, so we started a weekly playgroup with four families. Because

We went over some important considerations as we started the group, especially in regards to the pandemic because at the time we started our group we were in the midst of it, but because concern about spreading contagious viruses will always be a part of bringing a group of young kids together. most of our decisions still apply.

Our playgroup was quite unstructured: We gathered each week, the kids played, and there was snack time, and the occasional storytime. Pretty basic, simple stuff.

If you’re interested in starting your own playgroup, here are some ideas and questions to consider. I recommend over-communicating at the start to avoid potential roadblocks or differing expectations.

(Caveats: I am not a child development expert and I don’t know best practices surrounding early childhood education. Also, I firmly believe that every family should do what works best for them, and that there are many different paths for success)

Start your own playgroup: The Who

I reached out to a few friends (from church, college, and a parenting group) who had similar schedules to our family. Also, one friend had another friend who was interested, and with this small group of families, our playgroup was born.

If you don’t have local connections in the same situation or stage of life, you can find potentially interested families by reaching out far and wide. Inquire in local Facebook parenting groups. Check-in with community bulletin boards or forums within local community centers or places of worship. In addition, ask friends to spread your inquiry to toddler parents in their networks. Finally, connect with parents you see at the playground or frequently walking around your neighborhood. You never know where you might find interested families.

Start your own playgroup: The What

As your playgroup forms, consider the following questions as a group:

  • Where and when will the playgroup meet?
  • Will it be the same place each time, or rotate?
  •  What will be the age range of the kids?
  • Will regular participation be expected, or will the group operate more on a drop-in basis?
  • Will you meet rain or shine if the playgroup is outside?
  • What will snacktime look like? Will the host provide snacks?
  • Will there be a specific structure to the playgroup time?
  • What will parent involvement look like?

We wanted our group to meet outside, so we take turns hosting in our backyards, with the occasional park visit. We met pretty regularly even if the weather was less than ideal. We sometimes provided snacks, and sometimes we brought our own snacks. Parents suggested activities, helped resolve conflicts and kept the kids safe, but mostly the kids had unstructured playtime.

The beauty of creating your own playgroup? Each group can make it just how they want it to be — there’s no one way to be a playgroup!

Start your own playgroup: The Pandemic

We started our playgroup in the fall of 2021, well into  pandemic times. As we started the group, it was important for everyone to be on the same page regarding COVID safety protocols. Every individual and family has different levels of possible exposure and risk tolerance, and we all wanted to feel safe and comfortable.

Our group met outside exclusively. Everyone wore or didn’t wear masks at their own comfort level each week. If someone is sick or has had a recent exposure to a virus, they’d skip the playgroup that week.

Many weeks, we had a text thread between parents with uncertainties that come up during the week (My child has a runny nose,  – should we skip group this week? We were inside with family friends last weekend, are you all comfortable if we still come?) These conversations can feel like overkill but have always been filled with graciousness and appreciation. Everyone is navigating the unknown about COVID and other contagious viruses to the best of their ability, and frequent and over-communication is the best way to make sure everyone feels comfortable.

Start your own playgroup: The Outcome

After a few months of meeting, we made new friends, played with new toys, tried new snacks, explored new places, and looked forward to playgroup.

Nothing monumental happened. The kids did not interact with each other a whole lot, and we didn’t do any special activities that we wouldn’t otherwise do at home. But it was a nice opportunity to gather with other families, connect with other parents, and facilitate space for our kids to be in a casual group environment.

As the year went on, schedules changed, and playgroup participation ebbed and flowed. But the basic idea remains constant: Playgroup is a time for us to gather and play.

 

Published Feb. 10, 2022

More in Seattle’s Child:

Ask the Pediatrician: Why getting dirty is good for kids

Free Forest School: outdoor, play-based learning for kids

The Playlist: all about home learning

 

About the Author

Ellie White

Ellie had the privilege of growing up in our beautiful Pacific Northwest. She currently lives in the Green Lake neighborhood with her husband and twin toddlers.