written by: Sylvia Cochran
• edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom
• updated: 3/2/2012
Being in charge of a child playgroup is not as easy as it sounds. There is always the potential for tantrums, squabbles, and also antsy behavior. Learn about some surefire ways of avoiding problems before they start.
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Structuring a Child Playgroup for Younger Toddlers (One and Two Year Olds)
What might look like an impromptu get-together of children in pursuit of similar entertainment, to the trained eye is actually the successful conclusion of carefully planned toddler activities. Structuring a child playgroup depends heavily on the facilitator’s ability to incorporate sensory exploration with age appropriate motor skills. For example, for younger toddlers, this might mean the use of constructing an edifice using large blocks treated with various finishes and available in a rainbow of colors.
Of course, cooperation among toddlers is limited, and before long someone will knock over another child’s tower, which in turn has the potential to lead to temper tantrums and aggression. Organization of your toddler group must therefore incorporate elements of self help skills that allow children to make use of already learned responses. In this instance, the offending child will use the skill of verbally apologizing for hurting another child’s feeling, while the offended child may use the skill of cleaning up the blocks that fell and starting over on the construction of the tower.
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Playgroup Design for Older Toddlers (Three and Four Year Olds)
Older toddler playgroups require a lot more planning. While it may look deceptively easy to get started with an afternoon of playtime, this age group is actually among the more volatile ones. The main focal point with children of this age must be the increase in language arts, such as dramatic acting and vocabulary building against the backdrop of sensorial exploration. For example, allow children to explore a number of different tastes from sour and also sweet fruits, and then help them to find the words needed to describe these tastes.
Intersperse carefully timed exercises in these activities to prevent the children from getting antsy. Moreover, when you break up the main focus of your playgroup activity into bite sized modules, the toddlers are less likely to loose interest in the learning opportunity. As pointed out by Bright Hub’s own Beth Taylor in her article “Art Exploration for Toddlers," art exploration for toddlers – and by extrapolation other playgroup activities – are about the process, not necessarily the finished result.
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A Word on Special Needs
Ann Haig, an advocate for special needs education and professional behavior analyst, points out that when it comes to children with Down syndrome or other special needs causing conditions, the playgroup structure should rely on a broader approach than the task oriented toddler playgroups you might find elsewhere. This is especially desirable when children are differently able in a wide array of developmental areas. Focusing on only one area might actually frustrate the children who bear the brunt of their disability in that particular area of development.
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‘Keep it simple’ is an adage that applies to a number of different areas, but none more so than a playgroup for young children. Sure, you could purchase a number of costly games and toys, but as Cynthia Catlin pointed out in her book “Toddlers Together: The Complete Planning Guide for a Toddler Curriculum," disposable boxes, cardboard rolls, and related materials are far superior for encouraging imagination and satisfying the need for exploration than a single use toy from the store.