Sunday, September 23, 2012

Playdates 101 (an essential playgroup guide for Moms)

In this guide you will find information on:
  • How to host a playdate
  • When to start taking your child to playdates
  • What to do at a playdate
  • How to start your own playgroup
  • Where to find a playgroup
  • How to handle playdate drama
  • How to keep the kids entertained and happy
  • Where to hold playdates
  • Moms Night Out
  • A playdate idea guide (at the end of this post)
  • and several photos from playdates that I held with my playgroup

How to get started with playgroups
indoor home playdate

First off let's start off with the basics. When your child is very young, it is best to start getting your thoughts organized ahead of time on how to get started with playdates. 

You need to decide if you want to start looking for a playgroup, or get your own started. Once your child is a few months old, you can get started with playdates.  In my playgroup, the Moms with babies under 6 months old would simply bring a big blanket and a few baby toys, lay their babies on the blankets with toys and let them just enjoy the outdoors. Sometimes the babies would interact and other times it was just the Moms chit chatting. It is so beneficial for the Mom to get out of the house and meet with other Moms. It is so good for your sanity and to get advice as well as support from other Moms who are going through the same thing, or already have gone through it! 

There are many options out there for playgroups. I have 15 years experience with playgroups, and in my experience is the best place to start.  I have tried specialty playdate websites, message boards, yahoo groups, and pretty much everywhere else. Nothing seems to work as well as On meetup, you have the option to find a playgroup to join,  to start your own playgroup, or both! If you want to join a group, you can simply use meetup's find a group option and do a key word search for a group that fits you and your child's'  needs. If you decide to start your own playgroup there is a monthly fee on meetup, but once you get your group established you can charge a low fee to your members to offset the cost. 

To start or join a playgroup is simple, you just join and fill out your profile. Then you add interests and start looking for a group. If you want to start a group, you just click on their start a group option, and fill out the info for your group. You will choose a name, put in a description, and put in the groups interests. These are all very crucial steps to getting your group started. Choose a name that represents your group's purpose, but is also short and catchy.  If your group is a general group for all babies under 1 year old, then you might want to call it something that includes the city or general area you live in, with the word babies or baby and something else to make it sound catchy. My group was in the North Orlando area, so I called it North Orlando Sunshine Moms. It fit and it worked and it was very fun and catchy! 

You will need to decide what type of group your group will be. Will it be for all babies. or toddlers, or preschoolers, or a homeschool group, a moms only running group, a mommy and me stroller exercise group, a Montessori educational playgroup, a home preschool group, a group for children ages 0-4, or 1-2, or 2-4, or 0-1, a group for Moms who are Hispanic, or Asian, a group for young Moms, a group for older Moms, a group for all moms and kids of all ages, a group that only meets at a the mall once a week, a group that is like minded like Vegan Moms or Attachment Parenting Moms, or maybe you do not know what type of group it should be so you can just model it around you or your child.

Here are some good examples of names for a playgroup. I will use random city names to help with the examples. I will also show you specialty group names too!

  • Greenfield Babies
  • Sunshine Tots
  • West side Preschoolers
  • Bayside Montessori Playgroup
  • Summerville 0-3 Mommy and Me
  • 2012 Moms stroller workout group 
  • Thursday Mommies on the run 
  • Daytona Vegan Moms
  • Orlando Attachment Parenting Moms
  • 0-3 Mommy and Me
  • Greenwood Fun 2's, 3's, and 4's
  • Latino Mamas of Orange City
  • Young Mothers of Jackson
  • Moms 35 and older with babies
  • North Orlando Preschool Pals
  • North Orlando Play and Learn

playdate wagon ride
The interests section of your meetup group is equally as important as the name of your group. The interest are the key words for your group and they are how other Moms find your group! You will need to add as many key words as meetup allows, try and choose a few popular titles such as Moms and Playgroup, as well as key words that describe what kind of group it is and who the group is for, like age of child or location the Mom lives in.

The description of your group can be short and sweet or very detailed. Just explain what the group is for and about and who the group is open to. What type of Mom, age of Mom, age of children, area they live in, what the group will do and areas it will meet in as well as examples of activities the group will do together.

Now, once you get started with your group, you need to spread the word. You can make up some fliers and print them up. Then you can hang your fliers on light poles or in grocery stores bulletin boards, at the library, and at public playgrounds. You can start planning playdates on your calendar too! Just add a few starter playdates and then once you get members and talk to them about what they want, you can change it up a little. Once announces your new group to all of their registered users, you will start getting more members. 
playdate sand box fun!

When I planned playdates, I would ask the members when they were available and where they wanted to go. You also have to take into consideration if a location is appropriate for the age of the children attending the playdate. Please be very detailed when you add your playdates to the calendar, let them know where to meet, what to bring, where it is at, how long you all will be there, if they need to be on time or can come late if they need to, and what you all will do at the playdate. This can all be very simple or very detailed.  You can simply entitle the playdate the name of the location and then say just bring a drink for you and your child, a ball or simple outdoor toys, and bring a snack for all the little ones to share and everyone will just chit chat and have play freely. You could also say something like, the age group of the children meeting at the playdate and the theme. Maybe it will be 2-4 balls and bubbles playdate, bring a ball and some bubbles to blow, bring a drink for you and your child and a snack for all of the little ones to share. Lets have a fun time with bubbles and balls.  You can allow Moms in your group to host playdates on your calendar too. Sometimes when Moms in the group host a playdate, they may only want a small amount of Moms and their children to attend. This is ok too, just hold more than one playdate option on the calendar that day. Then there can be a group playdate as well as a small playdate hosted by a member.

Playdate at Lakeshore Learning
If you have a mixed age group, you might want to consider making some of the playdates for the younger kids and some of the older kids, then some group wide  playdates too. I always advised my members to bring snacks to share. That way none of the children would argue over what another child was snacking on. I did this for in public playdates as well as backyard playdates. In this day and age, it is not always affordable to provide snacks and drinks for a group of children and their Moms, so many Moms think they should not host a playdate if it is not in the budget to provide the drinks and snacks. This is not true, if everyone brings their own childs personal drink, a drink for themselves and everyone brings a normal sized package of snacks that can be shared with the group. This way you can have that playdate that you and your child very much need, and no one is busting their budget. The average cost of a snack that you would bring to share would be $2 or less. A bag of goldfish crackers is always a winner! 

This photo was taken in September 2010. The two boys in brown are my twins, the boy in the middle is still one of their best friends to this date, they just adore him and they met him in our playgroup. I closed my playgroup earlier this year but I still meet up with some of the Moms from the group for playdates and Moms nights out.

Now, where do you hold the playdates?? 

That is an easy one, they can be anywhere that is kid friendly!! If your child is too young to enjoy the location you are going to with your playgroup, you can still attend! You just bring your child in their stroller or if you are a baby-wearer, wear your baby! You go to socialize with the Moms and get out of the house, to get your child out in the fresh air, it is all very beneficial to you and your child!! Your spouse will love seeing you all refreshed and in a great mood. Staying cooped up in the house is the worst thing you can do as a Mom, especially if you are having issues with your child such as special needs, colic, tantrums, etc.

Here are awesome examples of places to go with your playgroup:

  • The mall for a walk, lunch, and then go to the mall play area
  • Any nice public park with a playground
  • A local botanical gardens for a nice walk around the beautiful gardens
  • The zoo
  • The Science Center (always a winner)
  • A childrens's museum
  • A stroller walk around a local lake with a walking path
  • Your backyard, or the backyard of a group member
  • You can have outdoor only or indoor only playdates, whatever you want
  • A buffet restaurant for lunch and chit chat
  • An indoor kids play place like Monkey Joes or Chuck E Cheese
  • Mini golf for kids 3 and up
  • A local library childrens storytime
  • The beach or a public pool (remind everyone of safety precautions)
  • A local family or childrens festival
  • The pumpkin patch
  • an apple orchard
  • a citrus orchard
  • a visitor friendly farm or a childrens petting zoo
  • a butterfly encounter
  • In your neighborhood for a stroller or wagon walk 
  • anywhere kid friendly in your area
This is a group photo taken during our annual playgroup Easter Egg Hunt

Moms Night Out

Moms Night Out is a crucial outlet for all Moms in your group. Plan a monthly Moms Night Out. It will be a nice breath of fresh air away from the kids and spouses. All Moms need this and most spouses will support the idea. It should be at a modest location and a good time to have everyone meet would be 6:00 pm or 6:30 pm. Some Moms will want to meet a little later, ask your group what they want. If you see a movie with your group, try to choose something that everyone is ok with. Chick Flicks are always a good choice, just have your members vote on it in a poll. has an awesome poll option right in your group!

Here are some examples of where to hold a MNO aka Moms Night Out.

  • Dinner at a local restaurant and a then drive to a close by Movie theater for a movie
  • Dinner and bowling
  • Dinner and window shopping at the Mall
  • Dinner and Mini Golf
  • Dinner Shows/Dinner Theater
  • Dinner and then go for Dessert at an ice cream shop, or specialty dessert shop
  • A movie and dessert
  • A Moms Night In with movies. crafting, desserts, making food together, etc.
  • Go to a local ceramic/pottery painting shop
  • Go to a local make your own jewelry bead shop
  • Go to a craft class or coupon class together
  • Go to a parenting seminar together
  • Make things together for the kids for a group wide party
  • Anywhere modest and decent that the Moms will enjoy

Group wide picnics and parties

Our playgroup Valentines Day Party
You may decide that you want your group to have quarterly or yearly parties or picnics. This is a GREAT way to get your group together. You tell everyone to bring their spouses, all the kids,  and even the grandparents if they want! You can theme it by Holiday or Season! The best location is usually a nice local park with pavilions. You can assign every member to bring a certain thing to make the party. Just decide on a date and time and get it on your calendar, be sure to be specific of what needs to be brought for the party and that you need the members to volunteer to bring these items.

Here is a list of example items for group members to bring:

  • ice and coolers
  • decorations
  • balloons
  • balls
  • desserts
  • side dishes
  • appetizers
  • casseroles
  • main dishes
  • chicken, burgers, hot dogs
  • buns, rolls, bread,
  • condiments
  • waters, juice boxes. soda
  • kid friendly music and a portable dc player with built in speakers
  • bubbles, automatic bubble machine
  • bouncy houses (if the location has electrical outlets)

Playdate Drama and Mama Drama
my group at a park playdate 

In any group of women, there will be drama. You can try and avoid any drama by writing up a set of very fair and clear rules for your group to go by. Make sure to include a sick policy as well. The sick policy will be the most important part of the group rules. It will help to avoid a lot of mama drama. You can also include a part about how to handle negative interaction between children, like if another child bites or hits. Keep the group communication open and use Moms night out or group monthly meetings to handle any recent playdate issues. Try and make sure everyone is kind and openly communicates with each other. You need to do this to avoid yourself being wrapped up in other mama drama within the group too. One thing that sometimes causes mama drama within the group is when Moms start cliques within the group and occasionally meet outside of the group for playdates, then speak of it at the next playdate. This will happen, it is good for the Moms to make friends with another, just ask that everyone keep their off group playdates quiet and not to make others feel left out by having talks about it in front of the rest of the group.

The rewards and benefits of playdates and playgroups

the kids snacking at a playdate
You and your child both need to get out of the house and socialize with other Moms and  children. It is important for your child's development to socialize with other children. They need the opportunity to be around other young children.  Children enjoy being around other children, even the shy children. It just takes time to adapt and feel comfortable. Some children need to warm up for 20 minutes before they will interact with other children, that is normal too.  It is good for Moms to break out of their routine and get out there to socialize with other moms, share stories, advice, ideas, and find out about different things to make parenting better and easier that you never knew about. Check out this awesome article on the importance of playdates for children.

Be sure to check out the NEW Pinterest Playdate Guide for Moms that was inspired by this post!! I hope that you will find all that you need to start or join a playgroup within this post and the Pinterest Playdate Guide for Moms!!  

Just a few more playdate photos from my group ;)

Easter Egg dying with our playgroup

A group music and sing along playdate

Our group at the pumpkin patch

My twins and two boys at a playdate
finger painting playdate

a playdate where we met for storytime at the library

I hired a popular local Childrens music singer named Mr Richard to do a "private" show for our group at a public park, around the time of my twins birthday. We actually did this two times that year!!

The kids socializing and snacking at a playdate

Please feel free to check out all of the posts I made about playdates I held for my twins with our playgroup HERE

You can also find TONS of awesome play ideas for your children or for playdates HERE

Now for the really fun part of Playdates 101, the playdate ideas!!!
Check them out!! These playdates are sure to keep the kids busy, happy, and entertained!

The Great Playdate Idea Link Up!!


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