How to set up a kids play group with close friends and neighbors

Playgroups for toddlers are an excellent way to provide a safe, social interaction for kids. They’re pretty fun for moms, dads, and caregivers, too. The benefits of playgroups for toddlers are numerous – and that includes socialization. Preschool isn’t that far away, and giving your toddler the opportunity to connect with children his or her own age on a weekly basis helps with language, fine and gross motor development, as well as sharing and turn-taking.

If you’re looking to find a kids playgroup for your toddler and can’t locate an established one in your community, it’s not that difficult to start one of your own, especially with social media at your fingertips.

A great place to begin forming a playgroup is by joining a toddler story time program at your local public library or participating in a Mommy and Me class. If you and your child seem to connect with some of the children and parents in the group, suggest getting together outside of class at an area park or playground. Then, if all goes well, put the wheels in motion for a playgroup. This is a more personal way than putting out feelers on social media because you will be able to meet the potential participants beforehand.

Set boundaries

When starting up a playgroup it is important to decide on the parameters right away. How often will the playgroup meet? Decide whether the group will meet weekly or monthly as well as a location. Do you want to rotate among participant’s homes or go for a neutral spot like a community park? How long will the playgroup be for? Ninety minutes is ideal. Finally, choose a time of day. Remember to pick a time when toddlers have eaten and napped. Tired and hungry toddlers typically do not play nice.

Set rules

Toddlers do best in structured environments. So, to help the playgroup run smoothly, discuss upfront the types of toys the kids will be sharing and whether or not snacks will be involved. If food is on the menu, be sure to get a list of any food allergies and pass it along to all the parents. Add in a few extra minutes at the end for cleanup. The host parent shouldn’t be left with a mess when the playgroup leaves. Establish in advance a policy on cancellations. Do parents need to text or email the week’s playgroup host if they can’t make it?

Illness may be a touchy subject, but to avoid toddlers sharing the flu or pink eye, discuss what red flags warrant a cancellation. Public schools require a child to be fever-free without the use of over-the-counter medications for 24 hours. Excessive coughing, rashes, stomach issues, and runny eyes and noses are typically warning signs that a toddler should miss this week’s playgroup.

Toddlers and their parents playing a game during a playgroup

How many is too many?

The ideal playgroup has four to six participants. Less is typically not a good idea. Two is not enough to broaden social horizons, and with three, one child usually ends up feeling left out. More than six toddlers can get a little chaotic, and toddlers don’t do well with overstimulation.

All of the toddlers in the playgroup should be around the same age. Try to get a mixture of boys and girls. Remember the kids don’t have to be besties to join the playgroup. Sometimes it’s better if they aren’t. Since you are setting up the playgroup, look for parents who share your parenting style. This helps to avoid conflicts in the long run.

Trial run

Before making the playgroup permanent, test out the chemistry by holding an abbreviated session. See how the toddlers and parents interact with a one hour playgroup at your house or a nearby park. If all seems to go smoothly with toddlers and parents, set up a schedule and dive in. Playgroups can start with an hour for the first couple of weeks before moving it to 90 minutes. If things are running well with each playgroup, you can always extend it to two hours. Two hours should be the max, though. Anything longer will end up being too much for toddlers.

Two toddler girls sharing toys at a park playgroup
Anna Kraynova/Shutterstock

Stick to the routine

Getting toddlers to leave anywhere they are having fun can be torturous, but adhering to the time schedule is important and establishes a routine. Also, if all the toddlers are leaving at the same time, kids are less likely to fuss especially if they know the playgroup will be meeting again next week. Structure and routines are essential for toddlers, so make it a point to stick to the start and end times of the playgroup even if everyone is having a blast.

Special outings

Once your toddler playgroup is up and running, organizing outings like a trip to the zoo make for a nice change of pace. Don’t replace the playgroup with an outing. Try to plan one outing a month on a different day than the playgroup meets. These activities can be seasonal or holiday-themed.

Playgroups are a great way for toddlers and parents to socialize. It is easy to feel isolated when you are at home with a little one all day. Getting together with parents and caregivers with children the same age provides you and your toddler with a social network and a support system that oftentimes carries over into preschool and beyond with numerous benefits across the board for everyone involved.

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