My son was 18 months old before I was introduced to the wonderful world of playgroups. Sure, we had done a few playdates before that, but when your kids are very young, playdates are really just you getting together with some friends, babies in tow. But playgroups for toddlers are another animal entirely.
Yes, of course it’s still really about you getting to have something like a social life while with your child, but the kidlets are no longer babes rolling around on blankets or little ones delighted just to practice sitting up. Much more planning is needed to make sure the little creatures have a good time, so that you can, too!
Here are some tips that I have gathered. I can’t wait to read yours as well!
1. Decide on a location
This post is really focused on playgroups hosted in a home, but keep in mind that playgroups can be held in many other places, such as the zoo or the park. In most cases, however, these are not really “hosted” so much as arranged, since usually everyone is responsible for bringing their own toys and snacks. There is no reason this has to be the case, however! Some creative mamas take turns hosting playgroups in a park, rotating responsibility for providing snacks and drinks for the kids. This can be a great solution if your home isn’t suited to hosting a playgroup (or if you just want to get out of the house).
2. Decide who is bringing the food
As a wise mother once told me, with toddlers it’s really all about the snacks. Not only can food be entertaining for these relatively new eaters, it is also essential to have food on hand when hunger strikes those little tummies. Playgroups go much more smoothly when everyone is well-fed and hydrated.
Who provides the food can vary. If this is an occasional playgroup, the host may provide the main snacks, with other moms bringing a few items as well. If it is a regular playgroup whose members take turns hosting, often the host is responsible for providing all of the food.
One mothers’ group I belong to has “potluck” playgroups. Since the host is opening up her home, it is felt that all she should have to provide is coffee and tea for the other moms. All the other mamas bring snacks. It has become a lot of fun for the moms, as everyone shows off the latest recipe she has found on pinterest. (Of course, there are always some of us that show up with just a bag of fruit, but that’s healthy, too!)
3. If you are providing the food
As in all aspects of hosting a toddler playgroup, the key is to know your audience. One playgroup I belong to focuses on natural parenting, so most mothers that belong to it would never dream of serving their kids packaged food (unless perhaps it is from a health food store) and certainly not juice boxes. Members of another moms’ group I belong to don’t have a problem with either as long as they are (relatively) healthy, or at least not junk food. So while you can’t please everyone, do make an effort to serve items that will generally be acceptable to those attending. And while it is nice to accommodate food allergies, most moms do not expect this and usually bring some alternate snacks for their allergic kids.
In general, though, serve the food somewhere that is accessible to the moms but not the kids. This way the mom can be the one deciding what her child will eat, whether due to preferences or allergies.
As for the other mamas, most do not expect that anything more than coffee or tea will be provided, although it can be a nice treat to serve a little something extra for them. I remember one playgroup in particular where the hostess picked up freshly made bagels with cream cheese for everyone – what a treat! Depending on what you are serving for the little ones, it is usually enough just to make a little extra for the mamas, if you wish.
Here are some ideas of snacks you can serve. Keep in mind that finger foods are the easiest:
- Goldfish/bunnies, chips, pretzels: My little Monkey and I love Annie’s Bunnies. They taste great, and they’re organic (though not exactly cheap).
- Fruit: Cut up fruit is easy and healthy – Grapes, bananas, raisins, mandarin oranges, strawberries, watermelon, and so on.
- Muffins: I love to bake, and muffins are a great tasting way to sneak in some extra nutrients, plus they are usually popular with moms and kids. Some of my favorites are these low-fat peanut butter banana muffins and these spinach muffins, both featured on my cooking resource page.
- Drinks – Juice boxes if desired; otherwise, moms usually provide drinks for their own kids. If you are hosting at a park or other outdoor facility, small water bottles are also a welcome choice.
4. Toys and activities
One nice thing about toddler playgroups is that there is no need to plan any activities. It is more than enough just to have a bunch of toys set out for them to explore. Of course, you certainly can plan a craft or other activity for them, just be aware that they will probably drift in and out, as their attention spans are still relatively short and most are not used to organized group activities yet.
You may wish to prep your child ahead of time about the importance of sharing and how much fun it will be to play with the other children. This is necessary even if your child has little trouble sharing at other playgroups, because it is a different matter when other kids are invading his territory and his toys are the ones that must be shared. If there are toys that are especially precious to your child (or easily broken/hard to replace), it would be better to put them away before the playgroup arrives, to avoid major problems.
What are your tips for hosting a successful toddler playgroup?