Lazy days cuddling with your newborn and spirited
afternoons whiled away at the park sound like the picture-perfect
way to raise a child.
But trust me, it gets old quickly. When you're alone in
your house in the middle of a snowy day while your child refuses to
nap, you're going to want someplace to go where everyone will
understand the temper tantrum that's about to erupt.
That's when playgroups come in handy.
If it weren't for my playgroup, I would have never known
that the little boutique in Lincoln Park is the best place to find
a pair of extra-wide shoes, and that there's a secret preschool a
few streets away that doesn't advertise but has the best program in
the South Loop.
If you aren't already in a playgroup and have no idea
where to find one, don't worry-it's super easy to start your
Kim Shaw, who lives in Chicago's South Loop, enrolled her
daughter, Clare, in a local music class when she was just 6 months
"I thought it was a bit much, considering she barely moved
back then, but it turned out to be the greatest thing we did," Shaw
says. "We met babies all around the same age."
Turns out, those moms and babies were just as eager to
meet other people in the neighborhood as Shaw was.
So she got everyone's contact information and invited them
to form a playgroup, suggesting that if they knew other moms with
similarly aged children, they could keep adding playgroup
"We would recruit others we met at the park or at Gymboree
or wherever. If they wanted to join us, the more the merrier," she
Shaw set up a free Google calendar so that everyone in the
group could suggest play dates, walks and outings to the zoo. The
group of about 10 moms and toddlers has been meeting for just over
a year, and they see each other at least twice a week.
Shaw's goal was to meet local stay-at-home moms with
children of similar ages. But Anne Hoffman, of Northbrook, wanted
to find a group that accepts children of all ages, since her two
children are four years apart.
To find other people who wanted to join her group, Hoffman
paid $72 to www.Meetup.com, the world's largest network of local
groups. For that subscription cost, she was allowed to organize
Hoffman created Mom n Kid Caring Club, a community service
group for moms and children of all ages, and Chicagoveg Kids, a
group for vegetarian and vegan parents.
"It was really easy to do," Hoffman says. "I have met some
amazing moms, and my children have become friends with other kids.
I'd suggest other moms find out what's important to them and start
a group based on that."
The most important thing to do before starting a playgroup
is to figure out what you want out of the group, says Kim Storey,
who recently started a group via Meetup called Northshore New Moms
"I think my biggest advice is that you should be yourself
and make the club as unique as you are," Storey says. "As an
organizer, you basically set the tone and the atmosphere of the
group, so you want to make sure the group turns out to be what you
want and are looking for. It's the worst feeling if you start a
playgroup and don't love your playgroup."
Pauline Williams, creator of Bumbles Busy Ba-Bees
Playgroup of Chicago, started her Meetup group when she was a
stay-at-home mom and found herself always staying at home. She
wanted to find other parents who wanted to explore the city with
She says it's very important to realize the playgroup will
take up a lot of your time. Williams understood that, since she was
the founder of the group, she was expected to go to most or all the
events on the calendar.
She also knew she'd have to keep finding new mothers to
add to the group and continue the momentum.
"A few of our members I met in different places such as
the grocery store and the pediatricians' office. You now share
something in common with what may have been a complete stranger
before," Williams says. "Be careful not to come on too strong,
though. It's slightly obvious when you walk up to a fellow parent
and start commenting on how cute or adorable their baby is, but if
you say something like, 'I've been eyeballing that stroller for a
while now, what do you like about it?' or 'We're about to graduate
to sippy cups too, what made you decide on that particular brand'
will automatically be linking yourself to that person through
Once you start the group, you may find that your motives
change. Shaw says she wanted to have a playgroup so she could have
a reason to leave the house in the dead of winter. But the group
quickly turned into much more than simply an excuse to get
"I feel like my girlfriends in the playgroup are my new
work friends," she says. "We all come from different backgrounds
and would never have met otherwise, but we have the babies in
common. We are lucky to have these moms and babies in our lives
because they keep us active and happy."
Danielle Braff lives with her two daughters and husband in downtown Chicago.
See more of Danielle's stories here.
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