May 092012
 May 9, 2012  parenting

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.

To juice box or not to juice box – This can be a big question.

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?

This post can also be found at Natural Mothers Network’s Seasonal Celebration Sunday and Taming the Goblin’s Kids Co-op Link Up.

  12 Responses to “How to Host a Toddler Playgroup”

  1. Cool post! Some other thoughts:

    Numbers and expectation of how many “extras” can be invited to the core group. Getting too big can become an issue.

    Adult conversation. Are kids to overhear their parents’ gossip, negative language, talking about their personal issues/skills?

    Discipline. What happens when a kid hits another one – do they go to time out, do they “have” to say sorry, does the child have to leave? Open communication about group “rules” can be helpful.

    • Great points! Thank you! Just to touch on a couple- that is a great idea to lay out ground rules for dealing with child (mis)behavior because parents can have very different ideas about discipline and what constitutes acceptable behavior.

      And it’s funny you should mention adult conversation- I had never given this much thought until recently, when we’ve really become aware of how much of our conversations our little Monkey is absorbing, even when he appears to not be paying attention. And of course, we know he has been soaking it up all along, but we have been able to ignore that until now.

      How have you gone about laying out these ground rules ahead of time, and how have the other parents responded? Thanks!

      • Hi Leanna, I have no suggestions about how to “lay the groundrules” because I have never participated in a regular playgroup really, just met up with friends casually. Have you read Simplicity Parenting? There is a lot there on “adult conversation” and from what I know of you, I think you would really love the whole book. It is my #1 recommended book to all parents 😀

        • Hi Chelsea, I haven’t read the book, but it has been recommended to me before, so I will have to bump it up to the top of my “to read” list! Thank you!

          From the very beginning we have thought a lot about what our little guy is overhearing and the need to lift his spirit by talking to him in positive and encouraging ways. Yet it can be easy to forget that he also absorbs conversations not directed toward him.

          It is a challenge, though, “saving” our adult conversations until after he goes to bed! A work in progress…

          • Yes we are by no means experts in saving our conversations till the right time either – it’s hard! especially when decisions do need to be made (and my husband does shift work so sometimes we have no time to talk alone for a few days!).

            SP changed my life. I felt confused, overwhelmed, unsure so much before I read it and even though I dont feel like I have everything figured out, I know now that’s okay and at least I have my direction figured out. I also did a course online with the book – check out their website if you would be interested in that. Hope you like it 🙂

          • i just requested the book from the library – can’t wait to read it! I will be sure to look at the course outline as well. It is a great website.

  2. Hi! I’m visiting from the Weekly Kid’s Co-op. You have inspired me to host a playground playdate for my son with his friends from school during this long Memorial Weekend. Thanks for linking up!

  3. Hi! I am visiting for the first time by the Weekly Kid’s Co-Op. So happy to have found your blog and I am excited to explore more of your posts. :O)

    I found your comments section on this post to be very helpful. I am a former preschool teacher who now does children’s programming at my local library. I will be recommending the book you mentioned and a few others at my next few storytimes so that I can start a dialogue with my storytime parents about the importance of recognizing that adult conversation is not always appropriate around their little ones. Thank you for the book suggestion!

    I would like to invite you to swing by my blog at I share Activities, Books, Crafts, and Snacks (ABC’S) on favorite toddler and preschool topics like farms, bugs, etc. You might find a few fun ideas to add to your next playgroup. ;o)

    I hope you have a lovely Sunday!

  4. […] As mentioned in an earlier post, many parents (ourselves included) don’t like to give too much juice to their kids, since it can fill them up on too much natural sugar without all of the benefits of the whole […]

  5. Hi-I am a creator and owner of a lovely and busy playgrouo in Bahrain called Sticky Fingers (FB @ Sticky Fingers Bahrain). For more than 2 years i am creating playdates twice a week for kids from newborn up to approx 4 years of age. We have many activities throughout the year like messy play,sensory bins, painting, reading, crafts, etc. I am running a blog also to share all the knowledge and experience.
    Looking forward to welcome you to our digital Sticky Fingers on FB or on Blogger!

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