(Photo via Jenni C, Flickr CC)
“Play is the work of the child,” wrote Dr. María Montessori.
I couldn’t agree more. And, to that I would add, it’s my job as E.’s mother to provide her with as many opportunities to play, freely, uninterrupted, in a safe and meaningful environment, as possible. It’s also my job, I believe, to grow and learn as a parent so that I can best love, nurture, teach and discipline (“train”) my daughter.
And it’s through organized neighborhood-based playgroups that both E. and I can carry out our “work.”
Let me explain.
On Tuesdays E. and I meet up with a small group of Spanish-speaking moms – one from Spain, another from Colombia, and one from Mexico – and their toddlers to play. Sometime we meet at the local park, while other days we opt for the library. Our only playgroup rule: ¡sólo en español!
On Fridays E. and I get together with another small group of moms and toddlers, only this time the playgroup is a bit more structured in that we moms have all agreed to follow a few guiding principles of RIE Parenting and Montessori philosophy: child-directed free play with little to no interference from the adults; no forced sharing; no praises or rewards or time-outs; a commitment to support each other as we grow in our understanding of these two parenting philosophies.
Why did I start two play groups?
- Individualized, perfectly-tailored (and, free!) pre-school –
As a former teacher, I thought (pre-baby) that I would enroll E. in daycare from an early age. “You gotta socialize ’em!” I used to say. “School is good for them.” And, “I’m not staying cooped up all day at home with a baby!”
Well, like most hard and fast opinions we parents have pre-baby, that one changed as I got to know E. over the course of my first year as a mom. I eventually quit my job to stay at home with her (a uniquely personal decision for each mother, I know); D. and I ended up moving closer to his job, to a more affordable city; I developed a daily rhythm with E.; I was happy.
Eventually, however, I began to doubt my ability to provide E. with sufficient input in Spanish. Even though D. and I speak exclusively in Spanish to E., I wanted to provide her with other opportunities to hear and speak Spanish, with native speakers and especially children her age. Not ready yet to send her off to school, I thought, how can I best provide her with additional exposure to Spanish? A Spanish-speaking playgroup!
That got me thinking: how can I start to prepare little Miss E. for the possibility of enrolling in a Montessori school? Why not start a Montessori-inspired toddler playgroup!
So, really, a toddler playgroup is the ultimate individualized pre-school: hours and location that work for our family, parameters that best serve my child, and community for mamá (plus, parent-teacher conferences are a no brainer! Ha!).
2. Investment in my neighborhood –
A neighborhood playgroup is a great way to invest in your immediate neighborhood, to build friendships, to support local business, to create community.
Partly due to E.’s current nap schedule and partly due to my disgust at having to schlep a baby around the city in a car (not a fan of the car seat), I decided a few months ago that I would cut back on excursions and play dates in other parts of the city.
D. and I live in a small, walkable, and bustling neighborhood, one that’s full of young children and lots of stay-at-home moms like me. There are blocks and blocks of small businesses, two parks, a public library, post office, cafes, and not to mention a children’s museum, Jewish community center, aquarium, and (literally!) more. These are the very reasons D. and I chose our apartment. So why not stay put Monday-Friday with E. and spend time soaking it all in, instead of driving to a different location each day?
Now that E. and I have standing commitments on Tuesdays and Fridays in our neighborhood, we are spending more time getting to know its quirks, the people who live and work here, even the dogs and their owners who stroll up and down our street, the same time each day. I feel more rooted to this place, more connected, and have an increasing sense of belonging or ownership. What happens here matters to me. That’s a good thing.
3. Way to connect with and support other like-minded families –
A playgroup with a goal or set of guidelines (i.e., bilingual or RIE/Montessori) is a chance for parents to connect with other like-minded families and to help each other in our parenting journeys.
In the Spanish playgroup, for example, there is a young boy about nine months older than E. I often sit and observe him play, fascinated by all of the words and phrases in Spanish he produces. This is an encouragement to me because it reminds me that one day soon E.’s language output will explode and we’ll be having little conversations just like that boy and his mom.
Or, in the case of the RIE/Montessori playgroup, while our children play, the moms and I share doubts and concerns about our child’s behavior or growth or learning. We use these questions to guide our own research into Montessori, as we all have varying levels of knowledge of this philosophy. How should we help our child through a tantrum? What if my son refuses to eat vegetables? Why is it counterproductive to say “good job?”
I have loved the questions, observations, comments, and answers that each mom brings to our weekly playgroup. I am encouraged by their curiosity and willingness to learn, and I am challenged to remain committed to bilingual parenting the Montessori way.
Are you involved in a playgroup? Or, perhaps you’re thinking you’d like to join one (or, start your own!)? I’d love to hear your thoughts and learn from your experiences. Drop me a line!