… is that they’re really as much about interaction for parents as the kiddos. And quite frankly, we all need a little time to play.

No, this isn’t an ooey gooey post where I wax poetic about the virtues of play groups. Don’t get me wrong. I love them. An opportunity for unstructured play and conversation is something this mom is all about. But I titled this post the truth about play groups…

Sometimes they stress me out. You too? Thank God. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

Have you found yourself in this situation? A parent (who you may or may not know well) decides to go Type A and expound on “the best way to do {{insert any possible topic here, but it’s probably breast feeding, ‘sleep’ training or not training, television exposure, or vaccine opinions}}” in reference to child bearing or child raising. Awkward silence is the best possible outcome of this situation. Maddening coffee choking is the worst.

Another perplexing scenario? Your child decides that this particular playgroup would be an excellent time to test his or her boundaries and is hell bent on being – – well, a hellion. Snatching toys. Perfecting their Charlotte Church yodel. Accessorizing the library walls with a renegade crayon. Even worse? Someone else’s “perfect” child decides to start chucking blocks across the room and nails yours in the forehead. After ensuring the injury doesn’t require stitches and the sobs quiet, you and the rowdy instigator’s parent get to play a game of ‘whose kid is really at fault?’

Then there is the communal sippy cup. The one that every child has an innate desire to chew on… even though they all have their own.

All of that said, this mom believes playgroups are excellent practice for ‘real life.’ Maybe we can all learn something from the sandbox. Our kids certainly are. Here’s an excerpt from Shelley Butler’s article Learning through Play:

Play is recreation, amusement, or fun. Even more says Jeanne Bassis, founder of PlayReflections® who offers “playshops” for adults. “Play is not just about doing, it’s about being. Play is a state of grace, innocence, wonder and creativity… and happens when anyone is truly living in the present tense.”

The natural activity of early childhood, play is what children do and their way of life. For young children, there is no distinction between play and learning; they are one and the same. Playing is a priority in early childhood, yet not all play is the same.

Whether you opt for a more formalized get-together through an organized playgroup setting, or get a bunch of friends together for coffee and chaos (and, lets be honest, playgroups with toddlers are pure chaos), there is something refreshing about letting your own child direct their play with a peer group. And something rather liberating about the chance to talk in complex sentences with people who are more than three feet tall.

If you’ve not yet ventured out into the world of playgroups, Charm City has some truly great options for dipping your toes into unstructured play:

  • Baltimore Mommies: BaltimoreMommies is a free community for moms in Baltimore, Howard, Eastern Carroll and Northern Anne Arundel Counties, Maryland. We realize that all moms need local support — and who can’t use another friend? BaltimoreMommies.com offers a simple way to connect with local moms for friendship, support and fun. Members meet in our private discussion forums to share information on everything from where to get the best haircut to tips on transitioning to a “big kid” bed. Each month, they offer many face-to-face events for our members, their children and their families. Did I mention they have ‘moms only’ play dates? Yes. Sans kiddos. You can read about our trip to Storyville with the Baltimore Mommies here.

  • Children of the World Co-Op: The Children of the World Co-op, Inc. is an international playgroup for children ages one to four with their parents or caregivers. It is housed in the Cathedral of the Incarnation at University Parkway and St. Paul Street, right in the backyard of The Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus .The Co-op runs year round, Monday through Friday, from 9:30A.M. to 11:30A.M. The program gives stay at home parents a wonderful place for their young children to play, and we all know that the work of learning for young children occurs through their play.

The Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance is featuring a series on different downtown playgroups on their blog. Some of them are ‘organized’ and some of them developed informally through kitchen convos. Check out the evolution.

Know of another great play group opportunity? Would love to hear it!

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