Parents: How to Start an Outdoor Playgroup
Tips to make outdoor play dates part of your family's routine
"Mom, I’m bored!" That’s the summer rallying cry of kids everywhere. As a mom, I want my kids to get outside and play as much as possible. But I also know how boring it can be to play in the same space every day. To liven things up, some friends and I loosely organized outdoor summer play dates for each day of the week. Our weekly schedule looks something like this:
Monday: Playground at the library
Tuesday: Kid-friendly spot at our local river
Wednesday: Community pool
Thursday: Playground at the lake
Friday: Community pool
Again, the organization is pretty loose, and my kids and I certainly don’t make it out to these outdoor destinations every day. But I’m lucky enough to know quite a number of families in the area that love outdoor play as much as I do. So by sending out this schedule to everyone, we can bet that there will be at least one family at the chosen spot on each day. And let’s face it, it’s more fun for everyone when kids (and adults too!) have someone to play with.
Christine Koh, founder of BostonMamas.com, figured this out pretty quickly when she organized an outdoor play date for her 5-year-old, Laurel. "If I take Laurel to the park, and she’s not playing with another kid, she does a round on all the structures and then declares herself done. Yesterday we spent far longer out at the park because she had a friend to do everything with," she said.
With warmer temperatures and kids out of school, summer is the perfect time to start an outdoor playgroup. Here are some tips for getting one going in your neighborhood:
Find like-minded families: Don’t know a lot of outdoorsy families? Post a notice about your playgroup at your local library or grocery store, invite kids from your child’s class, or try connecting with local families online at sites like ActiveKidsClub or Nature Rocks.
Decide on a structure: Is the playgroup for adults and kids or just for kids? Outdoor playgroups are a great way for parents to get outdoors and socialize too. But a lot of parents love the flexibility and free time that comes with play-date swapping. If you decide to make it a playgroup for kids only, stick with like-minded families that you already know. You don’t want your group to become a babysitting service for kids that you aren’t familiar with.
Make a plan: Or not. Decide in advance whether you want the playgroup to center on an activity or be unstructured play time. Older kids usually don’t need an activity to keep them entertained, while little kids do better with some guidance. Diane MacEachern, author of Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World, belonged to a strong outdoor playgroup when her kids were little. "Activities varied depending on the [kids’] ages … at the time, but generally our goal was to get them out and running around as much as possible. We went to parks and to nearby horse stables, went swimming, had picnics, went to the zoo, and visited the local nature center." Check out www.beoutthere.org/activities for fun outdoor activities that kids of all ages will enjoy.
Weather rules: Weather can make or break an outdoor play date. But one person’s frigid wind may be a fresh breeze to another. Activekidsclub.com offers sample guidelines for outdoor play groups: “We don’t go out when there is a blizzard, thunderstorm, a temperature reading below -25°C (-13°F), heat alert or smog alert.” What kind of guidelines you have is up to your group, but decide now so that there are no guessing games or last-minute phone calls when the temperature drops (or spikes)!
Start a “playborhood”: Don’t know any kids in your neck of the woods? Don’t let that stop you. Mike Lanza, founder of Playborhood.com is an expert at getting kids outdoors to play. His website helps families find ways to transform their own neighborhoods into community "playborhoods" where parents can feel comfortable sending their kids outside. Lanza recommends that both parents and kids get involved in their neighborhoods as a way to meet other families. “Get out in your front yard. Play ball. Get to know people. Be out there,” said Mike. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Jenn Savedge is the blogger behind
and the family channel on
Mother Nature Network
. She also authored three books on going green, including The Green Teen: The Eco-Friendly Teen’s Guide to Going Green.