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Is This Playgroup Worth It?

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

Much like other posters, I'm looking for, "Would you keep going or not?" advice about a playgroup I've signed my 19-month-old son up to participate in. It's six weeks, two sessions per week, for the group we're signed up for (more on that later), hosted in our local elementary school. To keep it simple, I'm going to bullet point things, but feel free to ask for more info. :-) Sorry for the text-bomb...


My intent with signing up for the group was to expose my son to routines and directions (not necessarily that he follow them, but that he begins to see how things work in sequence), to improve his language skills, to meet other families, and to expose my son to more social opportunities. He's only 19 months, I'm not looking for some DaVinci-quality breakthrough, major academic work, or anything else that would qualify me as "that batty parent pushing her baby too hard."


My son:

-Takes time to warm up to people and things. With encouragement he's great, but he seems most comfortable in tiny groups.

-Sensitive; it's obvious even to complete strangers that he's very aware of other's actions and feelings.

-Docile. He's never shown a hint of aggression. His preferred method of protest is the "limp fish flop." Doesn't even tantrum.


My personal limitations:


-This is my first child, so I don't have a barometer for comparing his interactions or comparing children's programs. I don't know what I should expect.
-I was never in a play group or structured social activity until my parents plopped me in kindergarten, so I don't have any personal frame of reference. Not that I'd remember being that young, anyway - but my parents don't have any stories.

-My entire frame of reference for schooling comes from a private school background. I AM NOT BASHING ON PUBLIC SCHOOLS. I just don't know what's "typical" in terms of resources, staffing, and space, because my experiences with schools are skewed: tiny student ratios with epic amounts of cash to provide supplies and resources. I know it's not like that everywhere.


So that's us. Last night was our first group. I wanted to keep an open mind, but it was tough. A few things that stood out:

- No sign posted for what door to go in, or what room to go to. When I did find an employee, she wasn't sure where the group was being held, so I had to wander til I found a janitor who showed me where to go.

-Bathroom facilities were a mystery to the group instructor. I had to change my son's diaper, and she wasn't sure if the main bathroom would be unlocked. She eventually offered me a changing mat in the next room, but it had sticky stuff on it. There were no sinks or bathrooms in the rooms we were using.

-This playgroup is one of three that meets under the same program's umbrella. The other two playgroups are for older kids and for music. We aren't doing the other two playgroups. Everyone who was there last night is doing all three groups, meaning there were some 3, 4, and 5 year old kids bombing around with my little one. This group is specifically designed for kids 0-to-2 years. It felt like an odd mix of ages and stages.

-No encouragement for the families to mingle with each other. We didn't do an "introduce yourself and your kids" section, so everyone sort of stratified themselves. Also discouraging because the parents all appear to know each other from previous groups, so I felt pretty isolated. It wasn't mean-spirited, it was just a chilly reception.

-Limited interaction from the instructor. I explained my goals for my son, but she didn't seem interested. There were only seven or eight kids there last night, so it wasn't necessarily that she was overwhelmed.

-A bully with inattentive parents. One child, an older and larger boy, literally trotted around the room snatching toys from the kids, undoing whatever it was that they were trying to do, and shoving kids out of his way if they had something he wanted. Highlights included snatching toy cars from my son, pushing him out of a foot-pedal car, and trying to smush him in a door on a playhouse. I intervened; his parents did not.

-The appearance that the kids were supposed to be "policing" each other. I don't want my 19 month old learning conflict resolution from other 19 month olds. Kids need to see modeling and teaching moments from adults; no toddler comes equipped with an innate ability to reason through things like a grown up. I'm not explaining that point well, but I think it comes across. Kinda like "little kids can't teach other little kids how to do things, if they don't know how to do them effectively themselves."


It wasn't all lousy, though...

-Awesome sand table that my son LOVED playing in.

-A wide variety of toys and objects for him to manipulate.

-An amazing playstructure for him to climb and run on - last night was the first time my kiddo went down a slide on his own!

-A nice group closing. Three songs, sung while sitting in a circle on carpet squares. Simple, clean, routine, and I appreciated the music aspect.

-Encouragement to come back for the next group, which the instructor said would have more people in it. Mondays are evenings; Wednesdays are mornings.

-No pressure for my son to "complete" the closing circle. He's not familiar with that type of structure, so he mostly wanted to play with the climbing equipment and peek around to check out what the other group was doing.

-A no-pressure option to have my son evaluated for anything I think may be an issue developmentally (speech, hearing, vision, etc) I don't personally think there are any problems, but it's nice to know the support is there.

-Exposure to many different types of children. Even if I don't like the bully, my son is going to need to learn how to navigate those situations and ask for help.


Clearly, I need more time in the group to really feel it out...but based on the above, is there anything that sticks out to you parents who have BTDT? Any flags? Am I expecting too much for a toddler group? Any valid concerns you see that I should address?


Thanks for reading!

post #2 of 11
I would be wary of calling an older toddler a bully. It is typical for older toddlers to snatch toys, and many become aggressive for periods of time. It could happen to yours too when he gets older, as it's very common. So try to reserve judgement there. The parent should have been keeping close tabs on him if he's going through that stage though so the parental involvement is worth noting.

Disorganization is annoying but not a deal breaker for me. Maybe they're still figuring things out, or in a new location?

The things that bother me are the lack of mingling, and the lack of attentiveness of the parents, and the way the kids were "policing" each other. Not appropriate for that age range, and I'm a free range mom. Toddlers can't figure things out for themselves, not when so many go through aggressive phases.

That sounds more like a group culture issue than the way it's organized, so I guess my question is whether you think you can change the group culture? If you are more involved with your son, will others follow your lead and maybe be glad to see the change? If you ask if you could all sit in a circle and try doing introductions, do you think people would be glad to hear the suggestion or would it fall flat?

You could also try contacting whatever organization runs the group to see why it's set up that way and if there's any change of change.

I don't think any 19-month-old needs socialization like this, so I don't think it's worth a huge amount of effort if that's what it feels like. Also, the group might not be great now but it sounds largely disorganized and poorly run. Maybe it'll be better when he's a bit older? That might be worth a try.

If the group doesn't sound like it would work out, you could try to find other groups in your area, but just heading to the library or museum or a park works just as well for kids that age. Don't feel like you have to start educating him and teaching him to follow directions at this point. It should mainly just be fun, and if the group isn't and isn't likely to become fun, then it might be best to find some fun elsewhere. Also, a big part of a group like this is support for parents, and it doesn't sound like you're finding that either.
post #3 of 11
Thread Starter 

"Bully" is a loaded word, but since you raised it as an issue, I can expound a little:


post #4 of 11
Thread Starter 

LOL - Lemme try that again:


"Bully" is a loaded word, but I can expound a little. To be fair, the other parents seemed like they'd dealt with this boy before...


A 22 month old girl was pushing a bubble-popper vacuum cleaner...thingie. The boy ran across the room, shoved her down hard (she bounced), snatched the vacuum, ran back across the room, then slammed it into the floor and left it there. His parents said nothing to him or to the other family.


My son and another boy were navigating the foot-pedal car, and this boy grabbed my son by the shirt and dragged him through the window of the car. I would expect some pushing, crying, maybe even a sturdy smack from the older boy toward my son, but to grab him by the shirt? Excessive.


In the playhouse, the doors were "saloon-style," meaning that they swung in on each other from both directions. My son was moving out of the way of the older boy as he walked into the playhouse (which, btw, could hold five or six kids - space wasn't an issue to my adult sensibilities). The older boy shoved my son into the space between the doors, then grabbed the doors and pulled them "opposite" to each other so my son was pinned between them. He clearly understood how the doors worked; he used them both to trap my kiddo. Mom and dad didn't intervene; I had to physically open the doors and lift my son up. I told the boy that he needed to watch out for the smaller kids. No response. I didn't expect him to say he was sorry, but he didn't even make eye contact with me. I squatted down to talk to him, so it wasn't that a strange set of knees was speaking to him. I'm big on eye-level communication.


The things he did seemed very out of character for what might be normal aggression for a child that age, and they seemed very intentional. He had a physical understanding of how those doors worked; he grabbed my son by the shirt as opposed to the arm or even hair. It might be modeled behavior from home, it might be a disorder/disability, it might be he's just a grumpy little kid. I'm not sure. It just seemed like WAY too much, KWIM?

post #5 of 11

It sounds as though the one toddler is a danger and the  parents are not closely supervising nor guiding social skills.

The other factor is that it is in a grade school, and since it's in use most of the time, as well as highly populated, germs will be prevalent.


Do you have a local park system, or a county park system?  Some have activity centers and playgroups. You could also inquire with Le Leche League, or Holistic Moms Network if there are any nice playgroups in the area. I agree though at that age no need for anything formal, but I understand that you are looking for things to do (lonnngggg days of fall/winter).

Edited by Asiago - 9/18/12 at 2:41pm
post #6 of 11
Thread Starter 

There are parks and whatnot around here, but the better resources are in Ann Arbor. I'm slightly south of that, and we only have one car (which I have at work most days), so I thought this would be a happy medium since it's walkable. My husband is taking my son to the group this morning; we will see what his opinion is. I'm open to LLL and HMN for events, though. You're right, I really am looking for ways to meet other families - so I'm sure there's an answer out there that will work for us.

post #7 of 11

What you describe sounds pretty normal to me, except the not-knowing-where-the-restroom-is part. There are no "instructors" per se at the playgroups that we attended, more like a playgroup supervisor. Parents are expected to do the socialization and supervising the kids, and frankly this is what I prefer. This is what you would be expected to do at the park too. The problem with the "bully" kid is more a lack of parental supervision imo. There are kids like this at the park too.

post #8 of 11

Sounds familiar to me. Although like the PP, I'd expect them to know where the bathroom is. I've never seen introductions done formally in a playgroup unless it is more like a guided program with a topic of discussion, etc... There is almost always be a child that is more challenging to be around. You are going to run into it everywhere. The  problem is not the child but how it is handled. And yes, hopefully the parents are aware but sadly many are not or just do not care. We've left programs, playgroups because of certain children because it was no longer unavoidable to just to try to stay away. Now my 3 year old is "that" child. He is on the autistic spectrum, looks "normal", but has significant aggression issues. He would be not only grabbing your son's shirt but probably trying to bite him on the face as well. I am aware of his challenges obviously and try to always be on guard around other children but incidents do happen before I can intervene. I would be apologizing to the other family though. 

post #9 of 11
Thread Starter 

But at a park, I don't expect to know anyone, and my focus is 100% on my son in case he's trying to be a superhero and do things that break the laws of physics. winky.gif  My thinking for the playgroup was, the proctor might do things like have a small get-to-know-you for the parents, or might point certain kids to play together if they're a good fit (encouraging parent interaction by-proxy). The group is structured (or at least, that's what the paperwork says), so the group proctor is supposed to be there to direct things, at least to some degree. If it was just a play-experience group, I wouldn't care. My expectations are a bit higher for this due to the way it was promoted.


I figured because it would be a more controlled setting with some goals, there would be more time to encourage parents to interact. Plus, I feel SO awkward saying anything to that boy or his parents just by virtue of knowing nothing about them, and also knowing that I'm going to be seeing them again for a few weeks. I don't want to create any bad blood, and you can never tell how someone will react or respond to things, no matter how lovingly or delicately they're phrased. If their son does have some sort of behavioral or developmental issue, the last thing he or they need is someone offering more criticism.


As it stands, my husband went to this morning's group and had largely the same experience with that particular boy and his parents. They were inconsistent in their redirection of their son, he was snatching toys from a girl, and refused to allow anyone in the area with the play cars. The group was more structured, but my husband got the same chilly reception. Those who knew each other huddled together. The activities were better planned, but the bathroom issue was still an issue. The room with the changing mat was locked, so hubby wandered around til he found a restroom with a changing station. (Sidebar: Why is it okay for random adults to wander around an elementary school? Not like we're going to do anything bad, but still...nobody batted an eye or asked him why he was there.)


Jury is still out. I think we will give it another week, and I'm going to get there early again on Monday to ask the proctor if there's anyone in particular my son could bum around with, which might help me have an "in" to meet some people. The poster who mentioned long fall/winter days hit the nail on the head...we have to find things to do or we're all going to go stir-crazy!

post #10 of 11

Well, you may need to adjust your expectations a little.  A playgroup typically doesn't have any structure, just a bunch of kids getting together.  Often no organized activity or facilitator at all.  An actual "class" is a different story.  Then I would expect an instructor to take initiative of ALL the kids, an activity, etc.  So if your LO loves it, keep going.  

post #11 of 11

You could also look for your nearest MOMS International chapter.  

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