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Issue Date: January 2007 Issue

Play Dates

The right playgroup can be a great way to connect with other moms and aid in your child’s development.
It’s 6 a.m. Your baby’s crying, your toddler’s ready for breakfast and the memo board on the fridge haunts you — yet again. Before you add another task to that trusty to-do list, here’s a suggestion: Playgroups have plenty of perks for moms and kids — regardless of schedules or tastes. Whether it is an informal gathering with your friends at home or a formal setting with a trained supervisor, there’s a group that’s right for you and your child.

Find Support

Being a new mom can be stressful. You want to make the best decisions for your child, and finding good advice can sometimes be taxing, especially if you’ve recently relocated to a new city.

Krysia Orlowski, a mother of two, recalls the advice playgroups provided for her, after relocating from San Francisco to Shaker Heights.

“You read the parenting books and magazines and think you know about babies and kids, but it doesn’t compare to real life,” she says. “Playgroups are a great way to go connect with other moms, relate experiences and compare parenting tips and tricks.”

Kim Kwasney enjoyed playgroups so much, she started one of her own. At TLC Mom’s Club, Kwasney and her 15-month-old son, Hunter, meet other Northeast Ohio members and enjoy a range of activities. “We love it just as much as the kids do,” says Kwasney.

“It’s about getting out of the house, interacting with other people and having fun with our children.”

Savvy moms find plenty of ways to locate playgroups. Helpful resources for finding safe playgroups include your local PTA, church, community-development programs, doctor’s office, library or word of mouth.

Create Structure

It’s important to set scheduled playtime for children. While daily errands may get the children out during the day, it can become quite tiring, physically and emotionally, for a child. Structured playtime can alleviate this stress from your child.

Barbara Streeter, director of the Hanna Perkins Center for Child Development in Shaker Heights and Westlake, suggests about a half-hour of playgroup time for infants, an hour for young toddlers and an hour and a half for older toddlers.

Parents need to guard against over-stimulation and not push a child to do what she isn’t ready to do, says Kay Levine, a psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at University Hospitals and assistant professor of psychiatry at Case School of Medicine.

Also don’t schedule too many learning-based classes for your child, says Streeter. Playing can be a great way to learn. “Children need to feel they are being heard. They need to be listened to and responded to,” says Streeter. “That’s empowering. Programming a child with information is not.”
Encourage  Development

Children naturally learn a slew of skills in a playgroup environment.

Kids gain social, physical and cognitive developmental skills in playgroups, says  Joanne Federman, executive director of the Patricia S. Mearns Family Playroom in Shaker Heights. Social skills range from infants observing and touching to toddlers learning how to take directions from an adult and sharing with others. Infants develop physical skills by experiencing crawling activities through tunnels and cushioning ramps, whereas toddlers further develop their skills by climbing, swinging or even gardening. Cognitive skills are developed by using puzzles, listening to music and pretend play.
It’s important the activities are appropriate for your child’s age. “The age of the child is really crucial,” says Levine. “There are huge differences between an infant and a 1-year-old — huge leaps developmentally.”
Establish Resources

Resources are always popping up in the playgroup atmosphere. Moms are an excellent source of information about baby-sitters, doctors, playgroups and community services.

Resources can also be provided when you least expect it. Formal playgroup centers have trained supervisors who can recognize red flags such as postpartum depression and find help for moms.

Orlowski received assistance when she needed it most. “It’s really great to have that support, to know that you’re not alone.”— Ashley Harrington

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