Playgroups provide fun, friendship and support for parents and children, but many parents find the idea of approaching other parents at the park or joining a group of strangers daunting. It's okay to be cautious, but don't let shyness keep you from joining a playgroup. Use these tips for finding a playgroup and for visiting the first time.
Here are four tips for finding a playgroup:
- Search for an existing playgroup in the calendar section of the newspaper. Check with local pediatricians and ob/gyns as well as churches, libraries, Chambers of Commerce, hospitals. Those are where most playgroups meet. If there isn't an existing playgroup, then try a local chapter of a national parents' organization, such as MOMS Club, MOPS and Mothers & More.
- Continue your search on the Internet. Go to any search engine, type in “playgroups” followed by your hometown or your state, and visit the resulting links. To narrow your search, go to OnlinePlaygroup.com or ClubsForMoms.Homestead.com for extensive lists of local playgroups.
- Once you have found a local group, contact the group via email or telephone. If the first contact is through email, get the person's phone number or give her your number, so that you can talk over the phone after this initial contact. Talking with someone should make you feel more comfortable and eager about visiting the playgroup.
- During the conversation, ask questions about the playgroup. In addition to the day, time and location, you may want to find out the ages of the children, the number of children and parents, what activities they do, and any membership requirements, such as bringing your own snacks or paying membership dues.
Once you have found a playgroup to visit, here are eight ways to make the visit less intimidating:
- Ask a friend to go with you. Even if she is not interested in joining a playgroup, at least you won't feel all alone during this first visit.
- If you don't know anyone else to go with you, talk to the playgroup leader over the phone so you will know her a little better. That way, you will feel like you know someone when you arrive. You will likely feel more comfortable if someone at playgroup greets you by name, even if the two of you have not actually met yet.
- Perhaps ask her to meet you in advance at another location so you can follow her to the designated meeting place. This will accomplish two things: You won't have to worry about following directions to the location if you are new to the area, and you will get to the playgroup already having met at least one person. That should alleviate some of the stress.
- If it will make you feel better, prepare an excuse in advance so that you can leave early if you feel too uncomfortable. Mention when you arrive that you will be unable to stay the full time. Perhaps tell them that you are meeting someone for lunch so you can stay only an hour, or you are expecting guests this evening and you need to get home to finish cleaning, or you need to run to the store before the baby's lunchtime. Any excuse will be fine as long as you mention it early in the visit.
- Try to join in the conversations. This may be difficult if they are talking about a recent field trip to the zoo or a moms' night out of which you were not a part, but surely you can find someway to contribute to the conversation. For example, you could mention how much your child likes the giraffes at the zoo or how you and your husband had celebrated your anniversary at the same restaurant where they went for the moms' night out.
- You could also start a conversation with someone. Ask another mom about her child, such as his name and age. Ask where she lives, where she grew up, what her husband does, how many children they plan to have, etc. The only way to make friends is to get to know them.
- Be understanding and tolerant of the other children as well as your own child. Your child will likely cling to you during the first visit. This is normal. Don't push him to join the other children if he feels more comfortable with you. Simply go with him to the playroom to select a few toys to play with near you.
- In any case, visit the group at least twice before making a final decision on joining or not. Playgroup will likely feel awkward the first time, so you need to give it a few tries before you know for sure that this group is not for you. After a couple of visits, you may find out that you actually have a few things in common with these other parents. Also, since your child will likely cling to you the first few visits, you need to give your child time to get comfortable in the new surroundings, for the faces to begin to look familiar, and for him to realize that you will not leave him there. This will take at least three visits.
If you decide to join, great! You and your child are in for a lot of fun. If you decide that this group is not for you, move on and look for another one. That next playgroup may be just the one you will want to join.