Toddler's Day Out
Tips for Summer Playgroups
By Jacqueline Bodnar
An article from iParenting Media
Spring and Summer are filled with all the things we love and cherish each year: the aroma of backyard barbecues, the laughter of children playing outdoors and the slower pace we get to enjoy for a few months. This time of year is perfect for getting children outside for some fresh air and keeping them active. While most people think of getting the older children outside to play, some may overlook the smallest children, those ages 3 and under.
This spring, plan some fun playgroups for your toddlers and get them in on all the fun this season has to offer. With a little bit of planning, you can all take part in and get something out of summer playgroups for the little ones. Playgroups for children this age not only are good fun for the kids – parents benefit as well.
While children this age generally engage in parallel play, rather than being interactive with other children, groups can still be beneficial for them. Children need to learn how to get along with other people, and playgroups are a great way to get them on that path. The children get a chance to practice their social skills and have fun at the same time. However, that doesn't mean it will be all fun and games.
"Parents need to have realistic expectations about little ones getting along," says Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a psychologist and author of the book The Unwritten Rules of Friendship: Simple Strategies to Help Your Child Make Friends.
"It's normal for very young children to ignore each other, to snatch toys and to cry when they don't get what they want."
Understanding that there may be problems can help you work to prevent them from happening and deal with them if they do. Although children this age may have a hard time sharing, they may be able to understand the concept of taking turns. Groups like this are great for helping children begin to understand the concepts of taking turns and following directions. When toddlers get frustrated, they may resort to hitting, pushing or biting. Preventing such problems before they start is the key. When you see a child getting frustrated, try to step in with a new activity, provide a healthy snack or physically separate the children.
"Parents can definitely benefit from play dates for young children," says Kennedy-Moore. "Besides having the camaraderie of other parents, play dates are also a great opportunity to observe other children. Seeing that everybody else's kid does it, too, can help parents feel more confident in their own parenting abilities and more accepting of their child's developmentally normal behavior."
It's a good idea to plan the playgroups for children this age. Having fewer children wll help keep things calmer. Another good way to avoid meltdowns is to keep the visits short; a good range for this age would be no more than two hours at once. When it comes to deciding what to do during that time, keep in mind that the activities should be something that will involve all the children and should be kept age-appropriate.
"At this age, children in playgroups have the opportunity to explore new areas in their environment," says Suzanne Reszka, the lead teacher at People's Church Preschool in East Lansing, Mich. "As they explore these new areas, they become more independent. Their emotional, social and language skills develop, and their feelings of self-esteem increase."
For children 3 and younger, Reszka recommends planning events around sensory activities such as water play, textured blocks and playing dress-up. Other areas that are good for this age group are activities that involve large motor skills as well as playing with music and finger play.
No matter what type of playgroup you plan, make sure you have fun. If your child sees you getting frustrated at some of the behavior, they will pick up on that and become frustrated, too. Have fun and they will have fun, too.
"Play dates are very exciting for young children," says Kennedy-Moore. "But focus on keeping them short. Shorter play dates work better."
Summer Playgroup Ideas
When it comes to putting together a playgroup that young children will love, you are limited only by your imagination. Here are a few ideas you can use or adapt when creating your own theme:
Field Trips: Summer is a great time to plan field trip playgroups. You can visit the zoo, the beach or even the library for story time and finger play. Other great field trips include going on a nature walk or meeting at the park for a picnic and play date.
Gym Class: Planning a gym class is a great way to keep the kids active – and they should take a great nap afterward! This can be set up outdoors or indoors on rainy days. Just create a gymnasium and have all the kids follow along with the routine. You can set up a small balance beam, create a floor routine and help them do tumbling.
Treasure Hunt: It doesn't have to be Easter for children this age to have a blast running around and gathering up treasures. You can create a treasure hunt in your backyard that will keep them busy looking for summer treasures.
Art: All year long, you've thought about pulling out some finger paints and other messy things for the kids to play with, but you have dreaded the thought of it getting all over the carpeting. Take the paints outside and set them up at the picnic table or on the ground. Well-supervised, the children will create their own little masterpieces.
Sidewalk Chalk: Find a safe area in your driveway or on the sidewalk to give the children colored sidewalk chalk and let them draw. You can also create and introduce them to different games, like hopscotch.
Beach Bash: You don't need to have a big swimming pool for children this age to have a beach bash. Just get a small wading pool for children and help them have some water fun. Throw in a picnic lunch and you have a perfect day at the beach – right in your own backyard.
Themed Play Dates: To make it a little more fun and creative, you can have a theme for each playgroup. You can concentrate on characters that the children like, sports or even animals.
Ice Cream Party: Summer means ice cream for kids of all ages. A simple yet tasty ice cream party can be thrown for the children.