It is easy for a parent, usually the mother, with young children to become isolated, especially if she is living away from her original home town and has left her family and friends behind. There are several groups and organisations in existence that help to bring parents and young children together for friendship and social activities.
Many local churches have Young Wives Groups where mothers and children get together for discussions and activities. Meet-a-Mum Association (MAMA) has branches in various parts of the country to provide friendship and support, especially for new mothers. Some areas have One o’Clock Clubs, which open during the afternoons, and sometimes there is a Drop-in Club, which is open most days for coffee and a chat.
In many parts of the country there are Mother and Toddler Groups, which are set up by social workers, health visitors, the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, the Playgroup Association, or just by a group of mothers themselves. These groups provide a meeting place where mothers can discuss and obtain information about some of the problems of bringing up children, meet and make friends with other mothers and get together in social activities, and bring children together for play and activities. Mother and Toddler Groups usually welcome mothers with children under three, and the mother stays with her children. Sometimes there is a speaker or an organised discussion, but it is usually a very informal get-together, set up and paid for by the mothers themselves. These clubs are very valuable in widening the horizons of mothers and children; they provide toys, space and facilities for children to play that may not be available at home. The meetings usually last about two hours.
These activities allow a child to get used to the idea of meeting and being with other children and adults. As the child nears the age of three, he becomes ready for the next step, which is the more formal organisation of the playgroup or nursery school.
Many children benefit enormously from attending a playgroup, especially if they live in an area where there are few opportunities for meeting other children and no play parks nearby. All children, however, are not ready for a playgroup at the age of three and the parent should check that the child:
- has sufficient self-confidence.
- is accustomed to being with other adults.
- will not mind being without his parents for a few hours.
- can play with other children without being very aggressive or shy.
- will not be frightened by all the new experiences and surroundings.
The best course is to introduce the child into a playgroup when he is three. The parent should be prepared to stay with him for several mornings. If, after a while, he is prepared to venture away from his parent’s side and begin to join in the activities and talk to the other children, the parent can then try leaving him for half an hour. If he is not happy,when he is taken and is obviously not enjoying it, it is best to leave it and try again at a later stage.
The advantages of going to a playgroup are that:
- the child learns to mix with other children and share things.
- he learns to be more independent and begins the process of learning some independence from his parents, especially his mother.
- he has the space to play which he may not have at home.
- he will have the benefit of a large selection of well-chosen toys and activities, including large-scale ones, which he will not have at home.
- there will be the encouragement and guidance of an experienced and qualified playgroup leader who will know how to encourage all aspects of development.
- it will be good preparation for the more structured life of the infant school.
- many playgroups organise special outings to zoos, parks, paddling pools, pantomimes, etc.
Both the children and their parents may benefit from a few hours’ separation. The parents have a short time to pursue their own interests, meet friends or go shopping, knowing that the child is safe. Parents may have more patience and energy to give to their children because of this brief separation.
A playgroup does not try to teach a child traditional subjects such as reading, writing and arithmetic. The child is not old enough to comprehend these concepts and these are best left until he goes to infant school. The playgroup aims at learning through play, providing the stimulation and situations required for good intellectual, physical, social and creative development.
Playgroups first became popular in the 1960s, and the Pre-school Playgroups Association was formed to help women to get together and organise a playgroup in their own area. A playgroup is set up by a group of mothers, but by law it must then be registered and comes under the jurisdiction of the local authority. It is mainly financed by the parents themselves, but some local authorities and councils make contributions. It is a good thing to have parental involvement and there is usually a rota. The committee that organises the playgroup will fix the charges and arrange the accommodation and the times the group will meet.
They usually welcome the help given by the children from local secondary schools and colleges, especially those on Child Development courses, and the system should be beneficial for the students who help, for the playgroup organisers, and for the children who attend the playgroup.