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The Hunger for Play
By Dana Johnson, MSW

“There is a tremendous hunger in our culture for true play.” This is a quote from Stuart L. Brown, M.D. who has spent years studying play in children. He is among a growing number of doctors, psychologists, child development specialists, and other professionals who are speaking out on the apparent lack of true play in children today. Are they right? Are our children “starving” for play?

To be defined as play, most researchers agree that children’s activities must meet five criteria: 1. Play must be pleasurable and enjoyable. 2. It must be spontaneous and voluntary. 3. A play activity contains an aspect of make believe. 4. The player must be actively engaged in play. 5. Play must have no extrinsic goals. *

While most children probably engage in play activities that meet some of these criteria, an activity has to meet all five to be considered “true” play. Activities for children today seem to be lacking in two primary areas: numbers four and five.

Many toys on the market today encourage passive rather than active play. In this age of high-tech toys, children frequently push a button and are entertained by watching play happen. The construction of the toy sets up the play activity and determines how it will be played with. The same can be said for many other typical activities for children today - television, movies, computer and video games. The problem with these activities is that the child is not creating anything using his/her own imagination. The child is not an active participant in creation of the play experience.

Criteria number five states that play must happen for the sake of play, with any outside goals. Much of what we “play” with children today has the covert agenda of teaching them a skill. Many of today’s toys are “educational” and clever marketing has told parents that they need to stimulate their baby’s brain, use flash cards with their toddler, teach reading to their preschooler. Some of today’s most popular toys carry names such as Einstein, Genius, Mozart, and Scholar. While there is nothing wrong with children learning through play, the point is that learning happens naturally in the course of true play. All children are born with a desire to explore, discover, and learn. The most effective means of accomplishing this is through their play. When playing with water children learn about weight, in selling food in a pretend store they learn about numbers, by using toys symbolically, they are thinking abstractly - a requirement for reading. All of these activities lay the groundwork for learning naturally.

It is interesting to note that although children appear to be lacking in true play experiences, most parents agree that play is important to their children’s development. In fact, research has shown that parents even know the types of play that are most beneficial to children!* If parents acknowledge that play is important and know what types of play are beneficial, then why are children not playing in this type unstructured free play? Developmental psychologists Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, PhD and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD state that as parents, “we know what to do, but we just can’t bring ourselves to do it. We are afraid that if we trust our instincts, our children will be missing out on learning some critical skills.” Their book, Einstein Never Used Flash Cards, proves otherwise.

It is my hope that parents today will take the lead in bringing back true play to childhood. Just as many of us take back the process of childbirth, just as we trust our instincts regarding attachment, let us also value our children’s need to play creatively and show respect for the importance of play in their lives.

Ways we can each begin to do this:

•Make play a part of your child’s daily life. Set a time for free play, play that is undirected and uninterrupted by adults, each day.

•Allow your child to play for the sake of play. Have no hidden agenda for “teaching” or “learning” during play.

•Provide unstructured, multi-purpose toys. Toys that are not detailed encourage active participation on the part of the child. The child has to use his/her imagination to “complete” the toy. This also encourages creativity and gives the child an opportunity to make believe endless possibilities. In addition, there is some evidence these types of play materials develop out-of-the-box thinking and problem solving skills.*

•Eliminate or limit television viewing. Television is a passive activity. It can also invite a host of other challenges to true play: children reenacting television programs instead of playing out of their own imaginations, exposure to violence and commercial marketing, and contributing to the need to be entertained.

•Be conscious of the images and sensations your children take in. Young children are just beginning to know the world around them, try to give them a beautiful image of their world. Toys that are made of natural materials such as wood and cotton are particularly nice as they have a warmth and quality that synthetic counterparts cannot match. Images that are reflective of the beauty of nature are preferable to characterizations and cartoon-like reproductions.

•Offer your child a life worth imitating. Young children learn through imitation. Watching you engaged in worthwhile daily tasks will give them lots of things to pretend and role play.

•Choose a play-based preschool. Children learn best through play. Research shows that children who attend academically oriented preschools do not enter school with better skills or attitudes toward learning.*

•Educate yourself. Do some reading on child development and the importance of play and play materials. Question marketing of toys claiming to be based on brain research. For example, would it surprise you to know The Mozart Effect was a study done on college kids and not babies?

•Get involved. There are many play advocacy organizations that are free to join and many encourage parents to do so. The Alliance for Childhood ( is a great one. They provide information for parents and you can join their free email newsletter.

Play fosters the growth of healthy children in every aspect of development – physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally. It really is food for children’s bodies, minds, and spirits. Let us nourish them with wonderful “true” play experiences.

*Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD & Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, PhD with Diane Eyer, PhD. Einstein Never Used Flash Cards. (Rodale, 2003)

Dana Johnson is a former mental health therapist and currently a work at home mom with twin girls. She owns Three Sisters Toys,, specializing in natural, open-ended and Waldorf-inspired toys.

10 Ways to Ensure a Perfect Playdate
By Carren W. Joye

All parents want their children to have friends. Getting together with friends at the park, playing with friends at day care or preschool, or visiting with relatives are part of a preschooler’s social life. So are going over to a friend’s house and inviting them over to play for a playdate. All of these are important to facilitate friendships for your toddler or preschooler.

Unfortunately, personalities and play styles may sometimes clash during these get-togethers. However, if you are prepared, you can help these playdates go so much more smoothly. Here are 10 ways to ensure a perfect playdate.

1. Invite a small and even number of children. Inevitably, with an odd number of children, one child will be left out of the fun. Plus, fewer children mean fewer conflicts, so limit your guests to two or four, including your own child.

2. You do not have to babyproof your house completely, but make it as safe as possible and alert parents to potential dangers. Perhaps set aside a designated play area and close the doors to any rooms you do not want children to enter.

3. Put away favorite toys so your child will not have to worry about sharing. Also, put away popular toys if you only have one. For example, if you have only one riding toy, youngsters are likely to fight over it, to put it away until after the playdate. Alternatively, you could ask your guests to bring their own favorite riding toys.

4. Don’t expect too much socialization. Most toddlers and preschoolers parallel play, so do not push them to play together. Even when youngsters play side by side, they can learn a lot just by watching each other.

5. Intervene in disputes only when necessary and have alternative plans. When there is a conflict with sharing, let the children work things out on their own unless the situation escalates to violence. In this case, you may need to distract them with other activities, such as blocks, puzzles, or bubbles, so have items like these on hand.

6. Encourage cooperative play with toys such as bubbles, modeling clay, blocks, sand box, or age-appropriate games. Some parents find that starting the playdate with one of these shared activities gets the playdate off to a good start. Definitely do not turn on the television or put on a video. The children are supposed to play during a playdate, not watch television.

7. Offer snacks. This is a great way to calm things down if things start getting out of hand, or to liven things up if the kids are bored. You can even include the kids in preparation. However, check with the parent first to make sure the snack will not interfere with dinner or to find out about any allergies. If a snack time would interfere with the next meal, at least offer beverages to your guests.

8. Plan for the playdate to last less than two hours. Children will get tired of each other and cranky after about an hour and a half to two hours. It is better to leave the children wanting more than to extend the time and have the playdate end with fights and tears.

9. Give a five-minute warning before leaving. This will give the children time to get adjusted to leaving.

10. Help pick up toys. Encourage the kids to clean up together, so that no one will be left with a mess. Not to mention, this will teach your children cooperation and good manners.

Carren W. Joye, homeschooling mom of four children, has founded five successful playgroups and helped start countless other playgroups around the world via the Internet. She is the author of A Stay-At-Home Mom's Complete Guide to Playgroups and the main force behind
Copyright © 2000 Carren W. Joye, All Rights Reserved Reprinted with Permission

Joining A Play Group
By Carran W. Joye

You rejoiced when you found out you had conceived your wonderful baby. You eagerly crossed off the weeks during your pregnancy leading to the birth of your beautiful baby. You’ve survived the first couple of months with little sleep and no social life. Now baby needs a little more entertainment than you’re able to give. Plus, you’re ready for a little more stimulation yourself! But you don’t want to expose her to germs and you don’t want to be separated for hours at a time. What can a mom and baby do that will provide entertainment for both of them in a safe environment?

Ever think of joining a playgroup?

Playgroups are not just for children; they are just as important to the parents who participate too. Even if you think your baby is too young to benefit from participating in a playgroup, you may be surprised at how much she and you will gain from joining one! Take a look at some of the advantages to participating in a playgroup for children and adults.

Regular Entertainment

For entertainment on a regular basis, the playgroup is unmatched! Weekly playgroups provide an enjoyable diversion where the children can play with friends while their moms talk or where all the members enjoy a structured mom-child activity. Even babies enjoy watching older children play. “We meet three times a week, which is a big help to keep the kids busy during the week and to allow them to make strong friendships,” says Jessica LaLonde, mother of three and founder of the Younger Moms of Orange County in California.


Playgroups provide children with the opportunity to play with others besides their own moms or siblings. In addition, many of the children in playgroup will likely be in their classes when school starts, especially if the group is composed of neighborhood residents. Children can make lifelong friends in playgroup!

Plus, playgroups give moms a chance to make new friends and network too. Indeed, friendship is perhaps the greatest reward of joining a playgroup. Many adults, too, find lifelong friends in their playgroups!


During play, children learn valuable skills, such as how to share, take turns and role-play. They can also engage in crafts or other structured activities. For families who don’t want to consider preschool or a Moms Day Out program, a playgroup is a viable solution.

Low Stress Mom-Child Activity

A playgroup is not a babysitting service; parents stay with their children. That means no worries with separation anxiety! The children can play and have fun without having to worry about mom leaving. It’s a very reassuring and confidence-building way to introduce children to socialization and to give them a little bit of independence at the same time.

Additionally, you don’t have the added stress of worrying about the safety of your child. Because parents stay with their children, they are assured of the care and safety of their precious little ones during playgroup.

Free or Low Cost

Whether meeting in each other’s homes or at a central location like a park, spending time with friends in a playgroup doesn’t have to cost a cent! Most neighborhood playgroups do not charge membership dues at all. Although local chapters of national organizations often charge fees, they are nominal and they cover a variety of services and benefits.

A Therapeutic Time Out

All moms need a break now and then, but many don't have the extra money to spend on a Moms Day Out program or on going out. Playgroups offer the opportunity for at-home parents to get that weekly break from home, and yet spend time with their children at the same time. “There isn’t any ‘off time’ as a parent,” says Danielle Lee of Mission Viejo, California, who founded the Working Moms Community Organization. “Having a support system like a playgroup is somewhat therapeutic.”

Seek Advice and Share Experiences

Playgroups offer parents a chance to seek parenting advice and share experiences from others who are facing the same struggles. In today’s society many new mothers not only have postponed having children, but also have moved great distances from their families and friends. They no longer have that built-in support system that all new moms need. Playgroups and parents’ groups fill that gap. In addition, playgroups for working parents and at-home dads are increasing, according to information at, an Internet resource for finding, starting and managing a playgroup. So even working parents and at-home dads are getting the support they need from playgroups.

Babysitting Co-op

A babysitting co-op consists of a number of families in a community who decide to share babysitting among themselves without the exchange of money. Many playgroups offer babysitting co-ops as a benefit for their members. Some are formal record-keeping groups, while others are more informal. The co-op is used for errands and doctor’s appointments and could even be used for weekends so parents could go out without the hassle of finding a sitter and the expense of paying for one. The parents feel more comfortable knowing their children are watched by an adult they know and by someone with whom the children feel comfortable as well. “Moms all over have discovered how best friends make the best baby-sitters,” says Gary Myers, author of The Smart Mom’s Baby-sitting Co-op Handbook.

Help During Personal Need

In dealing with an emergency for one child, a mom may need a babysitter for her other child in a pinch. Sometimes a mom may need a safe place for her baby when she herself is ill. Some playgroups institute an “In a Pinch” service with a list of moms who can babysit at the last minute. Since many families do not have relatives nearby, many parents find it convenient and comforting to have someone whom they know and trust that they could call at the last minute. In addition, through playgroup, their children know and feel comfortable with that other adult as well. “When I was battling post-partum depression, I needed someone to watch my nine-month-old son at the last minute several times,” says Angie (last name withheld), a member of the Millbrook Playgroup in Alabama. “I don’t know what I would have done without the friends I have made here in playgroup!”

Sharing, Borrowing and Exchanging

Many playgroups offer various barter systems, where members exchange goods and/or services with other members. These can include coupons, maternity and children’s clothes, and other baby items as well as services such as mowing the lawn, painting a room, or sewing clothes.


Many local businesses offer discounts for non-profit groups, allowing playgroup members to save money at the stores they frequent.

Community Exploration

Many parents’ groups and playgroups schedule field trips and other special events. The field trips can be “behind the scenes” tours of such places as fire stations, police stations, and other no-cost locations. Members get a chance to see the local sites and learn more about the area in which they live. Some groups even become involved in the community through various service projects.

Don’t delay joining or starting a playgroup just because you think your child is too young. You’ll be surprised how much you both will get out of it!

Carren W. Joye, homeschooling mom of four children, has founded five successful playgroups and helped start countless other playgroups around the world via the Internet. She is the author of A Stay-At-Home Mom's Complete Guide to Playgroups and the main force behind
Copyright © 2000 Carren W. Joye, All Rights Reserved Reprinted with Permission

Playgroups, Online and Offline
By Rob Vigil

Staying at home with your kids is a rewarding experience. Sometimes you and your kids need interaction with the outside world. One way to do this that is both a benefit to your children and yourself is to create or join a playgroup. This gives your child(ren) valuable interaction that is needed to develop his/her social skills. In addition it gives you an excellent opportunity to converse with adults. We all know what it's like to be at home all day with no adult interaction.

Playgroups can be found or formed at local community centers, church organizations, and mutual friends and online. If you have friends or family with children the same age then you have the makings of a possible playgroup. If not, then you can go to your community center, church or online playgroup search to look for other moms with the same interests.

In addition to setting up playdates, this is a good avenue to set up girls’ night outs with other moms.

Setting up playmates:

Rotate the play date host from each playgroup mom. This will allow the children to interact in different settings.

Keep the day/time consistent so that it will not interfere in the children’s' schedules (nap, sleep, mommy time)

Schedule public play dates at your local park, story time at the local bookstore, swimming pools, etc... This will take the monotony out of it.

Bring the necessary change of clothes, diapers, and snacks.

Going Online to find playgroups:

Playgroup matching sites are springing up on the Internet. These allow you to look for other moms looking for playgroups to join based on city and/or zip code. One such playgroup search is at MommiesCloset.Com's Playgroups database. This site as with others allow you to both join existing playgroups and to create playgroups for other moms to join. Some site such as the one mentioned above, allow you to search by zip code giving a defined radius to limit your search (i.e. 30 miles from 90210). Many moms are finding these sites extremely useful.

Once you have your playgroup, just remember to enjoy yourself and make it an enjoyable experience for your children.

By Staff Writer at MommiesCloset.Com
Article Source:

How to Start a Toddlers’ Playgroup
By Christine Louise Hohlbaum

Your toddler is into everything, and the day feels longer than Rapunzel’s hair. How do you keep your little one occupied in a constructive and fun manner? Start a toddlers’ playgroup!

You don’t need much in terms of materials, but you will need a space big enough to accommodate the number of children in the group. Too many children in too small of an area can lead to disaster. Ask your local church, synagogue, or community center for a two-hour slot in their building. Make certain that there are enough toys and books for the children to use.

If you need participants, advertise in your local parents paper. Oftentimes, parents papers offer free advertising for private groups. You might just be surprised at how many people respond to your ad. They’ve probably wanted to start a group themselves and didn’t know how!

Organizing the playgroup can be simple if you follow a few ground rules. Always start the group in a circle with a few songs of introduction. "My name is Sarah, my name is Sarah, what’s your name? What’s your name?" is a great song to begin your playgroup. It helps the leader get familiar with each child’s name.

Next, allow for some free play for the children. Oftentimes, the children are distracted by the unfamiliar toys in the room. Give them plenty of free time to play with the "new" toys and to interact with the other children. Allot 30 minutes for free play.

Singing a clean-up song helps teach children that it is time to put away the toys and start another activity. They also learn to help their parents clean up, instead of letting them do it by themselves! In my house, we sing before doing almost anything. "This is the way we brush our teeth, brush our teeth, brush our teeth..."

Giving the children a snack before craft time is helpful. They are more likely to participate if their tummies are full. Provide a brief, healthful snack (such as fruit or cheese). Once that is cleaned up, you can opt to do a simple craft project or read a story.

I like to emphasize literacy even in the smallest of children. Using oversized books of classics such as "Good Night, Moon" or "Runaway Bunny" is helpful with a large group of children. Make sure to ask the children questions as you read along. Even if they do not respond, your diversified tone more likely will hold their attention.

Singing songs in which the children are engaged is the most fun. "Old MacDonald," "Itsy Bitsy Spider," and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" are some examples. Borrow a children’s songbook from your local library for other ideas.

At the end of the playgroup, you can signal that it is time to leave by singing a goodbye song, again in a circle. It helps ease the transition out of the room for toddlers who have a hard time leaving places, and it is a nice way to end a playgroup session.

Now go out there, gather your friends and their kids, and have some fun!

Christine Louise Hohlbaum, author of Diary of a Mother: Parenting Stories and Other Stuff, occasionally leads a toddler playgroup in Paunzhausen, Germany. She is the mother of two children, wife to a German scientist, and an overall goofball who likes to have fun.
You can visit her web site at: mailto:

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