Imagine the scene. A church hall filled with loud, single-purpose plastic toys. Children of all ages running around, ignored by their childminders who sit chatting on the benches at the side. Noise. Pushing, snatching, shouting, scolding, threats. No one welcoming you, no one leading the session or seemingly in charge, no structure whatsoever. Biscuits and neon orange squash.
This was our experience of going to a local “mainstream” playgroup, and (needless to say), we did not go twice. I found the experience overwhelming and stressful, and I suspect from her reaction that Frida felt the same way! I was so disappointed as I love the idea of a playgroup, a space where parents and children can regularly come together and share playing and snacks.
I desperately searched for other local groups we could attend together but all seemed geared at either older or younger children, or were in some way unsuitable.
Enter Bluebells, the beautiful Steiner playgroup we now attend once a week on a Friday morning.
We love it. Like, really love it.
It is so gentle and nurturing, and feels like such a positive space for both of us. There is a strong focus on allowing the children to express themselves, on seasonality (with appropriate songs, craft and decorations), and on providing an environment where children and parents alike can flourish.
Although the children are free to play with whatever they like at whatever time (the toys are all natural and open ended, such as Stockmar crayons, wooden blocks, balls, handmade dolls, felted fairies, and a toy kitchen) there is a routine which is the same every session.
Each session is structured:
- Play time and herbal tea for parents as everyone arrives
- A simple, seasonal craft for the parents such as making felt pumpkins or acorns (children can join in or play, but it’s a wonderful way to get ideas for craft at home)
- Tidy up time
- A snack for the children
- Play time where the parents are encouraged just to observe
- A simple puppet show and songs
Each “transition” between activity is marked by song – a wonderful, gentle way to encourage the children onto the next thing, without jolting them away from what they are doing. Frida loves the songs and often asks for them at home so I’m desperately trying to learn them!
A good example of the songs our teacher Jo sings can be seen in this lovely video by Sarah Baldwin. Jo even uses a harp!
Although at times the children snatch from each other or get in each other’s personal spaces, because the playgroup is limited to eight children there is a calm atmosphere. Parents are encouraged not to intervene unless there is a need, and allow children to work through disagreements if possible. Even at such a young age – the group is 0-3 but I think the youngest in our session is around 17 months – children are amazing.
We are hoping to homeschool Frida, but are considering sending her to the Steiner kindergarten part-time from three and a half if she would like to go (and if it fits into our family budget – it’s not free). There are sadly no Montessori schools in our area at all.
The playgroup takes place at the school, in one of the beautiful kindergarten classrooms, so the hope is that if she does end up attending, the transition will be made smoother as the building and journey and potentially classroom will all be familiar to her.
Do you go to a playgroup with your children? What is it like? Have you found one which suits you?