Yesterday I talked about the Babysitting Exchange, a group of local parents who barter for childcare. One wonderful thing that six of us members decided to do has been to start a playgroup for our toddlers. They’re all between 15-30 months old, which is quite a wide range but it seems to work. Every Wednesday morning, the kids get together at one person’s home to do a variety of toddler activities. The host and one helper remain there the entire time, while the other 4 get to take off for a couple of hours. One week I spent the entire time at a coffeeshop reading. Another I was able to get some sewing projects done. I’ve also done errands, taken a nap, cleaned the house, and spent time praying. At first it seemed daunting to plan a toddler playgroup, but it’s actually working out great. Here are some ways that we make it work:
- Have a consistent structure: free play, circle time, snack, a more structured project, and some more free play time.
- Homes our reasonably baby-proofed, since each of us actually has a toddler at home. Since we see each other on a weekly basis, we know which kids are mouthy, which one climbs the stairs and can’t get down, and which one tends to miss his mom.
- We’ve lowered our expectations for group process and participation! This one was super hard for me. The teacher in me loves the idea of little ones sitting on their mats listening intently to a story. That doesn’t happen. We alternate songs and stories to try to keep their interest. We snuggle with the kids or let them stand in a tight little bunch as they try to see the pictures. Inevitably one will wander off to play some more. Sometimes circle time will only last for 5 minutes and that’s ok. Other times it lasts 20.
- We work with kids and their individual growth-points. There are two kids in the group who have a really hard time being left. They take turns leaving their child so we’re not all stuck with two screaming children. When one of them is hosting/helping, that’s easy. When neither is, they might each take off for half an hour or one will stay the whole time. We have seen vast improvements in both children’s ability to be left and still do well in the group. I have loved seeing that kind of growth, and knowing that the consistency of this little group has helped with that feels great.
- Plan ahead for the structure activity, and be willing to try something new. W have done play-dough, stickers, coloring, water table, wagon rides (both outdoors), and one week had a parade around and around the house. This week we’re trying salt-dough, hoping we can get some handprints to give to the other moms. It’s fun to expose kids to new activities, and I’m grateful that it’s not all on me to expose our Little One to everything under the sun. Being in someone else’s care has allowed her to learn more songs, try out her emerging independence, and has provided me with 5 models of how other moms interact with their toddlers. Very helpful!
This group of moms and kids has become very tight-knit. We rely on each other as we face toddler dilemmas. We teach each other, and care for each other. Getting that two hours off on a regular basis can’t be beat, either!