Attending toddler groups for the first time can be a bit daunting. Unless you’re a raving extrovert, the idea of walking in to a room full of women and children you’ve never met before is quite scary. I was absolutely petrified of going to toddler groups but was desperate to make some Mum friends so I plucked up the courage to go and, eventually, it became the highlight of my week. Here are my tips for attending toddler groups.
What is a Toddler Group?
A toddler group is a fairly informal meeting of parents and their children. While most of the children are usually toddlers, they can be any age from birth to five. Both mums and Dads are welcome as are other careers like grandparents and childminders. They are sometimes also called playgroups, mother and baby groups, mum and tots groups or parent and child groups.
Tney usually meet in venues like community centres and church halls and are run by volunteers. Sometimes the volunteers are from the church where the group runs, so,times they are from a charity like the a National Childbirth Trust and sometimes they are just parents who wanted to set up a group in their area.
Toddler groups usually go on for around two hours and there is often an opportunity for a hot drink and snack during that time. There are toys available for the children to play with and there is sometimes a structured activity like a craft and possibly singing at the end.
The charge for attending, if there is one, is usually small, often a pound or two.
How to find a Toddler Group
Toddler groups aren’t always great at advertising themselves and often grow as a result of word of mouth. If you’re actively searching for them, then websites like Netmums and Families Online are great places to start. You can also ask for recommendations in local parenting groups on Facebook.
Toddler groups essentially fall into three categories, community groups, National Childbirth Trust Groups and Church Groups.
Community groups usually take place in village halls and are run by the people who attend. This might be just one very enthusiastic person, or a group of them working together. National Childbirth Trust (NCT) Groups are overseen by the local branch but run by one or two specific people who attend the group. There is no need to be a member of the NCT and you can find your local branch and groups via the NCT website.
The greatest number of groups are run by churches, either in the church hall or in the churches themselves. Don’t be put off if you aren’t religious. While there will usually be a few religious songs and the odd prayer, they really don’t mind if you just sit quietly and don’t join in. These groups are usually run by church volunteers rather than parents and often have great activities as a result.
Before You Go
It’s always a good idea to get in touch before you attend toddler group for the first time. If you’ve got the details form the internet it’s a good idea to check it’s still running, unfortunately, as groups are run by volunteers, they do often close down when volunteers move on. You’ll also want to make sure they have spaces, some operate a waiting list. It can be nice if one of the leaders knows you’re coming as they will usually look out for you and try to introduce you to other people.
You may need to take some money with you as some groups have a small charge, usually £2-3. You’ll also want to take your usual changing back with all of the children’s paraphernalia. If your child is nervous in groups, you might want to take a special toy or comfort item.
If you’re really nervous about going you could try and take someone along with you. A friend, neighbour or even your mum! Alternatively, you could ask in local parenting Facebook groups if anyone is interested in going with you, that way you can both be new together.
What to Expect When Attending Toddler Groups
When you first walk in, it may well all seem like chaos! Kids will be running around and toys will be all over the floor, so watch your step! You may find no one acknowledges you or you may find everyone looks at you. Whatever they do, try not to worry that they are judging you, they really aren’t.
All groups involve a period of free play, there may be a structured craft or messy play activity and many have a circle time with singing, usually at the end. There may also be a snack time. This can be very casual, where you are invited to make your own hot drink and grab a biscuit or can involve all of the children sitting down together to eat.
What’s expected of you
When you’re attending toddler group for the first time, you might be worried about the etiquette. No one wants to be the mum that feed the good biscuits, meant for the grown ups, to her toddler. These are the things you should keep in mind:
- Keep an eye on your child – sometimes kids are naughty. Snatching, hitting and biting happen sometimes, everyone understands that so as long as you’re dealing with the situation no one will judge you.
- Follow the rules – While these aren’t usually lengthily, some groups will have rules about where you can leave buggies or areas that are out of bounds, make sure you follow them.
- Other people’s children – Some children (my children) will attach themselves to you and want you to play with them. Feel free to indulge them, it can be a great way to get to know their parents. Just don’t tell them off. If there’s an issue, identity their parent and explain the situation.
- Tidy up at the end – Don’t leave five minutes before the end on a regular basis, no matter what the reason, people will think you’re trying to avoid tidying up and that is the ultimate sin of toddler group.
Making friends at Toddler Group
The first thing to remember is, just because people aren’t talking to you, it doesn’t mean they are talking about you. People get in the habit of talking to their friends. They can forget to make the effort to talk to new people. They aren’t being intentionally unfriendly, they are just sleep deprived and in need of a good moan to people they already know won’t judge them for not loving every minute.
If you just keep attending, smiling at people and looking friendly, you will eventually make friends. Until then just play with your child and enjoy the hot tea. It won’t be long before new people will start attending and you’ll talk to them. Before you know it you’ll have made friends.
If you have any tips for attending toddler groups I’d love to hear them in the comments.
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