Play Group

    “Play Group,” Ensign, Aug. 1991, 73

    Play Group

    “Is today play group?” four-year-old Emma eagerly asks.

    “Yes,” I answer. “Today we are going to Alison’s house.”

    “Yeah!” she cries.

    This dialogue has occurred often in our home, ever since two other mothers in my ward and I started what we call play group. There are three children in our play group. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings from nine o’clock to noon, all three of the children play at one of our homes. Sometimes the mother in charge for the day organizes creative projects: painting, baking and decorating cookies, marching to music, or playing instruments. But usually the three children just play with one another.

    Emma has been in the same play group for three years. Although her verbal skills have always been strong, she has developed other skills as well through these friendships. From Cynthia, Emma has learned to brave slides and jungle gyms and perform many other physical activities. From Alison, Emma has learned the joy of using her imagination. Alison and Cynthia have, in turn, benefited from Emma’s chattering.

    Besides the developmental advantages, the children have cultivated strong, secure friendships. They consider one another’s families almost as their own extended families. So in times of stress—at the birth of a baby, during a prolonged illness, or after a death in the family—we have been able to leave our children overnight with one of the other two families. Even when our girls were very young, they adapted well in these situations.

    Although we started the play group primarily for the children, the positive effects have extended to us as mothers. Often isolated all day from other adults, we nevertheless see each other three days a week. We usually spend time chatting as we drop off or pick up the children. When one of us is going through a difficult time, those few minutes extend much longer.

    Another benefit is that having two consistent mornings a week clear allows us each to do things we otherwise might not have time to do. We can go to the temple, do visiting teaching, make appointments, or take classes without having to pay for a baby-sitter or take our children to a commercial preschool.

    We try to be flexible with the scheduling of play group. However, the real keys to our play group’s success have been choosing other mothers whom we admired as responsible parents; respecting the other mothers’ time and energy (sticking to the schedule as much as possible, picking up the children on time, not making difficult demands); respecting each child’s individuality; and staying out of the children’s squabbles as much as possible. We continue to find it important to communicate often, update our plans, and make clear exactly what we expect in terms of eating arrangements, discipline, and supplies.

    The play group has turned out to be one of the greatest things I have done for myself and my children. Just ask them!—Teressa Vassar Wallace, Bowie, Maryland

    Illustrated by Scott Greer