A tale of two playgroups

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

In my quest to entertain, occupy and tire out Oliver on the two days a week I have him at home, we found a Monday playgroup and a Thursday playgroup.

Monday morning

The playgroup is located at a school in a neighbourhood in the city to the south of us, about 10 minutes’ drive away. The area is diverse, with mixed housing and a mosque nearby. The playgroup is government funded, part of an early year’s initiative. It is labelled as a drop-in session for 0-6, with weekly themes. It does not cost money to attend. It runs only during school term time.

The playgroup is run in a kindergarten classroom, used by the school for their before and after school care. It is full of toys and activities that are not meant to be touched by the playgroup kids. Yeah, that’s been kind of a problem with Oliver. He loves the pretend kitchen. And the pet fish. And loads of other banned things. I have to watch him like a hawk.

The playgroup leader starts off the 2 hour session with different stations, with activities like sand play, painting on easels, play-doh, gluing and stickers – all around the weekly theme. Children also have the option of playgroup-owned toys and books. If there are many children attending, as their sometimes has been, the stations get chaotic and the noise level is insane.

After about 45 minutes to an hour of free play at these stations or with the toys and books, it is tidy-up time and then snack time. You must bring your own snack. Fine, but they don’t tell you in advance when you find out about these things on the internet or whatever – so the first time we went, I was lucky that a nice family shared their snack with Oliver.

After snack, it’s normally some physical activity, then circle (singing and books) and parachute time. By this time, Oliver is pretty much unable to listen properly and won’t really sit nicely in a circle like all the other kids that seem to be older than him, so we usually end up leaving a bit early after I have to threaten him with leaving early for not listening to me or the playgroup leader.

Going to this sort of group is not only meant to benefit your children, but also the parents. Many of the parents attending do not seem to speak English. The playgroup leader, painting everyone with the same brush, often ‘social works’ us and for example, has told us how to praise our children correctly. The group has been visited by literacy specialists and public health dentists.

That’s great and all, but in my ‘normal’ life, this is the kind of program I would manage, not receive help from. I’m used to being the social worker, not being social worked.

Thursday morning

The playgroup is located at a community center in our village. It is administered by the local parks and recreation department. It costs $2 per child per session. It’s also 2 hours. It runs all year round.  It’s unfortunately not quite as diverse, but isn’t totally homogeneous either.

It takes place in a large open room on the top floor of the hall. It is filled with toys, but maintains enough open space that many children can run around if they wish to, or play ball, or whatever.

There is a playgroup leader. She basically puts out the toys, fixes or cleans them as need be, prepares the snack, and interacts with everyone. There is normally no mandatory group activity.

The snack is kid-friendly and healthy. Only kids who are old enough to eat the snack have to pay admission.

Kids range from 0-5 in age. There’s between 8 and 15 kids there each time. The room could handle more.

The mothers have the choice of interacting with their children or socializing with each other. The room is set up so that you can normally trust that your child isn’t getting into trouble. Your kid could be running around like crazy, driving a car, or sitting quietly and reading books, or pretending to BBQ.

Many of the parents seem to have been coming to the group for a number of years. That’s sort of a hard group to break in to, but they are pretty welcoming eventually and are friendly to new children immediately.

*

Can you guess which one I prefer? Which one I think Oliver prefers?

So, as a result of this, I switched daycare days. He’s now going on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and we’re going to playgroup number two on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For my sanity and blood pressure (I was beginning to dread Monday mornings).

Edited to add: DAMN!  The playgroup leader is only running it Tuesdays this summer.  Oh man, now I need to find something else to do Thursdays in July and August.

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