In my daughter’s short time on the planet, we have attended several playgroups. Some have been simply wonderful, and others only so-so. Here are my tips for choosing a playgroup that will keep BOTH child and parent happy.
- Don’t believe the hype. When my daughter was born we were living in a much bigger city than Whanganui, and there were a dazzling array of ‘baby sensory’ classes or ‘swim classes’ that I could have taken her along to (at around $100 per term), to give my precious wee bundle the best possible start in life. I have lots of friends who – along with their babies – LOVED this sort of thing. It got them out of the house, meeting other parents, and gave them ideas for things to do at home. But don’t go in the belief that this class will make your kid the next Einstein. Sausage was about four months old before I took her along to any sort of playgroup. I didn’t bother before this because I had lots of mummy friends at home with their kids so I didn’t feel socially isolated, and I felt confident in my own abilities to entertain my baby. I simply waited for her to start showing that wonderful curiosity in the big wide world that babies eventually do. Your kid will not be disadvantaged if they aren’t bedazzled by a playgroup from birth.
- Consider the interests of your child. Sausage and I go along to a Mainly Music playgroup which she and I both enjoy. My tot is just crazy about music, y’all. Most kids are – but after speaking to lots of the mums there, many reported that once their son hit around three years of age they lost interest in going along as they just wanted to run around and play, not sit and sing songs. It’s a (mostly) boy thing. If you have a kid who can’t sit still, you’re probably better off opting for an unstructured playgroup that has plenty of outdoor space. Or going to kindy gym to burn off some of that energy. If your child loses interest in a group that they previously enjoyed, tune into them to find out why. It might be that there’s a kid in the group who is mean to them, or maybe it’s simply because the activities on offer no longer float their boat. They’ve moved on and have grown up. Dancing was sooooo last month, Mum.
- Consider the age of your child. If they haven’t reached toddler status yet, think about taking them to a group that specifically caters to babies. I did take Sausage along to Playcentre – which is amazing – but I recently pulled her out of it as she was just too young to really participate in most of the activities on offer there. There were a handful of younger kids there, but the majority of the kids were aged 2+ and as such, most group activities were well beyond Sausage’s abilities. We will definitely be back once she is walking/running with confidence and is dexterous enough to get really messy in true Playcentre style. For now, an unstructured playgroup with lots of Sausage age-appropriate toys are really rocking her world.
- Consider the personality of your child. An extroverted kid like mine isn’t terribly phased by large groups, but if your child is an introvert, they would probably be better off with a smaller playgroup, or even just playdates with one or two other kids. Some groups can be really large and therefore really LOUD, which can overwhelm a sensitive child. Bear in mind that kids can go through ‘clingy’ phases – don’t fight it if your little one is suddenly glued to your side at a group that they previously loved. Give it a rest for a couple of weeks and then go back and see how they are.
- Consider your own interests. Does the thought of going to a particular playgroup make you cringe for whatever reason? If you’re just not feeling it, hunt around for a group that is more your style. It’s okay. Lots of parents quit going to groups because they find it too damn loud or stressful, and lots more quit because they aren’t able to connect with the other parents. It’s okay. I stopped going to a baby playgroup that came out of our antenatal classes because although the people in it were lovely, I just didn’t ‘click’ with them. I soon found another playgroup where I made friends.
- Consider your own capacity. I found Playcentre a struggle as it requires a decent amount of parent participation. This is not because I didn’t want to participate, but because I have had terrible pregnancy fatigue. I switched it out for a low-key group where I’m not needed to help set up or clean up. They couldn’t care less what time we turn up or leave. Once baby number 2 arrives and Sausage is ready, I’m hoping to have the capacity to return to Playcentre.
- Consider the cost! Some groups are really expensive to attend, and many require payment up front and as a bulk sum (for instance, a playgroup we attended in our last city was $50 a term. It was worth it, that group was awesome). If money is tight (and let’s face it, for most of us it is), you may be better off joining groups where you pay-as-you-go. That way if little Johnny is sick or you go on holiday, you don’t feel like you’ve wasted money. You can often attend one or two sessions at most playgroups for free, to see if you like it, so shop around to find one that suits both your tot and you. And honestly, many of the groups that just charge $1 or $2 a session are just as good as the more expensive playgroups.