By Susan Sachs Lipman
We know that play groups are important for toddlers and preschoolers. But have you considered that they serve a valuable function for caregivers as well?
Below are some of the ways that Drop-In Play Groups, like the ones offered by Parents Place, help both young children and their parents.
Benefits of Play Groups for Children
Development of Social Skills
Making friends is an important life skill, notes Heidi Emberling, MA, Director of Parents Place at JFCS’ Center for Children and Youth. “Through connections with others, children give and receive emotional support, learn conflict resolution and problem-solving skills, play cooperatively, and develop empathy.”
While we can (and should) encourage social skills learning at home, there’s no substitute for the social opportunities afforded in a play group. When kids play with their peers, they are also learning how to share, negotiate, work in groups, resolve conflicts, and develop self-advocacy skills, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In short, play is the work of early childhood, and play groups allow play to happen in safe and stimulating ways, under the guidance of early childhood experts and parent educators.
Preparation for Preschool and Elementary School
Children who learn through play are more capable and eager to acquire skills and knowledge as they grow and develop. Play helps kids develop motor skills, cognitive and language skills, number and time concepts, spatial understanding, cause and effect, and aesthetic and sensory appreciation.
Healthy social and emotional development of young children fosters school readiness better than academic knowledge, says Heidi. “When children are able to build and sustain friendships, exercise self-control, solve problems, and become self-reliant, they are more likely to thrive in kindergarten.”
Creating a Variety of Experiences
Parents Place playrooms offer fun and stimulating activities in a safe environment. The equipment is age-appropriate and encourages kids to develop motor skills and physical confidence in ways that are likely not possible at home. Unstructured play is also a great way to increase our kids’ physical activity levels, which can lead to more optimum health.
Benefits of Play Groups for Parents and Caregivers
Unique Insight into Your Child
By observing our children playing with their peers, we can gain insight that we might not otherwise. The AAP notes that, “Less verbal children may be able to express their views, experiences, and even frustrations through play, allowing their parents an opportunity to gain a fuller understanding of their perspective.” Expert-led play groups can offer guidance to help us understand, support, and communicate more effectively with our children.
Varied Opportunities for Interaction with Your Child
When you play and interact with your child in a different setting, you add to the rich pool of experiences that make up your family life. You may discover a new way of playing together that carries over into your home life. Sometimes the funny and spontaneous things your child does in a play group become your fondest memories later on. Playing together also enhances feelings of security by reinforcing the notion that you are are fully present for your child.
Meaningful Connections with other Parents and Families
Parenting can be lonely and confusing at times, especially for the primary caregiver of a young child. Play groups offer a safe place for parents to share experiences and support with each other, while also benefiting from professional insights. The routine of a regularly occurring play group can also be very reassuring to everyone, as your family navigates new schedules and habits.
Play groups help us extend our social networks, which are critical to our mental health, and of practical importance to newer parents. Many parents of older children report that their closest friends continue to be the parents they met in play groups and similar settings when their children were young.
Susan Sachs Lipman (Suz) is the author of Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ activities for family fun and grew out of her blog, Slow Family Online. Slow Parenting and the book were named a Top 10 Parenting Trend by TIME Magazine. Suz has written for the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, the Christian Science Monitor’s Modern Parenthood blog, and many others. She manages social media for Parents Place.“