Playgroups may not have been around formally during our parents’ time but today, they are a very valuable resource in terms of baby care. Not only do they provide interaction and stimulation for babies, but playgroups also provide parents with a great place to connect and communicate with other parents.
The array of some playgroup activities can seem a tad too much: Music, art, gymnastics, swimming and more, all for little ones who can only babble and can barely stand on their own two feet! So, should you enrol your baby in a playgroup? We say, with the best of intentions at heart, go for it! Babies as young as newborns are already benefiting from playgroups!
Infants don’t seem very connected to the world around them and most don’t show much interest in anything other than their mummy’s boobs at feeding time. Yes, infants do seem oblivious to their surroundings, but the fact is, when it comes to interaction, nothing can be more further from the truth.
In the early months, playgroups provide an opportunity for young babies to be exposed to the likes of other babies for the first time. Though interaction is obviously limited, this opportunity still provides infants with an introduction to, sight, sound, expressive language and movement. An infant has already been aware of the voices of his/her own mother, father and perhaps even other family members since being in the womb. Being involved in a playgroup teaches them that the world extends beyond their own home and parents. Recognising that the world is filled with many people will help infants to become more receptive towards the outside world.
From the age of three months onwards, babies become more aware of their surroundings. It is about this age that babies start to recognise and study the faces of people around them. They also develop emotionally and catch on to the emotions of others near them. What would being involved in a playgroup mean for babies at this age?
Well, from this age, they begin to appreciate the company of other human beings and they learn how much fun it can be to observe others. Just place two or more five-month-old infants together on the floor. – Notice how fascinated they are just to stare at each other? Though they usually won’t play together, they “parallel play” and absorb the goings-on around them by observing each other.
This is also the time that most babies find or discover that they have their own voice. Playgroups give them an opportunity to learn the proper way to speak and react to other people. For example, babies catch on to the idea of interacting by watching their parents speak to other parents. Not only do playgroups give infants an opportunity to practice verbal and listening skills, they also provide a great opportunity for young babies to practice their newly found ability to imitate others. As for parents, participating in a playgroup can provide an avenue to learn new strategies for teaching and interacting with their babies.
Baby see, baby do! –Many babies have been known to ‘magically’ begin showcasing an ability to perform a skill that his/her parent has been trying to teach only after seeing and imitating another child in a playgroup. A child’s parents may have spent countless hours teaching a skill, clapping hands or waving goodbye for example, seemingly to no avail. However, seeing other children perform it seems to give some babies the initiative to attempt it on their own.
From the age of six months onwards, there are many valuable things that babies can learn from being involved with a playgroup. This is when babies reach the milestones of eating, talking and mobility. Watching others in their playgroup serves to encourage babies to progress further and interact with their peers.
Parents will also be exposed to new strategies on a wide variety of childcare subjects, from tips on dealing with teething problems to how to get their little ones to sleep better or longer. Playgroups have also been known to serve as great support systems for parents whose children may be facing developmental issues.
This is the age babies start showing real signs of becoming independent toddlers. There is actually a lot on babies’ plates at this age: learning to eat independently, communicating their needs and wants, learning to give and take with other children and not to mention trying to take their first steps. Some parents may find that their little ones are now much more interested in their playgroup peers rather than hanging out with mummy and daddy, which helps conclude that separation anxiety will be easily overcome if a baby between the age of 9-12 months is in a playgroup.
What do parents get?
For parents, one of the benefits of participating in infant playgroups is so that they themselves can have an opportunity to share ideas, fears and experiences with other parents. This is especially true for new or young parents who may sometimes feel inadequate. Committing to a class or playgroup gets you out and about regularly, gives you a chance to play and learn with your baby in different ways than you do at home, and most importantly, gives you the chance to connect with other parents who speak your language. That means you can discuss current events and the contents of your baby’s diapers without feeling like a misfit. Experienced moms can share their skills and experiences with new moms, in a laid-back, casual environment. Additionally, playgroups sometimes serve as a much needed social support system for moms where they discuss not only their children, but also their marriages, interests and careers. Friendships forged through playgroups are often meaningful and long-lasting, giving the never-ending list of common issues parents of babies have.
Remember, like any other organised activities and classes, playgroups are by no means an absolute necessity. You will not be influencing your baby’s intellectual or physical growth by opting out but they can be a lot of fun for the both of you!