Playgroups. We’ve mentioned them in prior posts, the Multilingual Children’s Association recommends it as do our experts. Plus, the truth is they’re really fun. In an effort to show you just how important they really are, I’ve decided to use the playgroup Vanessa and I belong to as case study. I hope you enjoy reading about it…
I don’t even remember how I found it or why I even started looking for it. The truth is I wasn’t making a conscious effort to find one; I hadn’t really thought about the benefits both Vanessa and I would be able to reap from belonging to one. I just remember searching online for a playgroup and being extremely surprised to find one called: Bilingual Tots–in Denver! The best part was that it had just formed, so when I joined, I was just in time for their introductory meet-up. That was last summer, and now I don’t know how I would do without it.
“I wanted my children and I to have bilingual friends because the more people we could speak with in Spanish the more important the language would be to them,” says AnaGloria Rodriguez, the organizer of Bilingual Tots, when I asked her why she started the playgroup. “I also love learning about other cultures and wanted us to learn more about other Latino cultures because I want my children to be proud of who they are. Basically, I was trying to form an extended family group for us.”
A source of support and encouragement…
It hasn’t even been a year since that first meeting and Bilingual Tots already has close to 50 members. And, though the truth is that not all of them attend regular meet-ups, I’d say there are at least a dozen of us who participate as much as possible. So we’ve had an opportunity to develop friendly relationships not only at the adult level, but our kiddies, too!
“I am overcome with emotion when I think about how successful this group has become,” adds AnaGloria. ‘It is wonderful how some of us have connected and gotten to know one another. I know that my children feel the love of the group.”
To see that love for your self, all you have to do is look at the picture above of AnaGloria’s daughter, Penelope, and my own child, Vanessa. It’s truly great to hear Penny say, “Hola, Vanessa” as she walks over to give her a hug as soon as we arrive at the park or the museum or wherever we’re meeting.
“I recently read somewhere that children will speak the language of the people they love. So I figure the more people my children have to love who speak Spanish, the more likely they are to stick with it,” adds AnaGloria.
For Lili Strachan, mother of three boys, and recent transplant to Colorado from Scotland, Bilingual Tots has given her and her children an opportunity to make Spanish-speaking friends in their new home. But, as she explains, the playgroup means a lot more than that.
“The true benefit is being able to exchange ideas with the other mothers about bilingualism,” says Lili, who grew up in Florida and whose parents are Colombian. “In addition, I am learning about customs and words from the other mothers that are from many different countries.”
And that’s what I truly like the most about our playgroup, its diversity. Everyone’s in the same boat, but for different reasons and using different methods.
Maybe these tips can help:
Ok, enough boasting, so how can you get started? Here are some tips:
- First of all, check online to see if a playgroup like ours or similar already exists in your area. Chances are, it does.
- If not, and you’re willing to be the organizer of one, the best place to go–according to AnaGloria–is meetup.com. It’s not free, but it works wonders. Getting groups with similar likes, needs or hobbies together is the reason they’re in business. You can also create a Yahoo! group for free.
- You have to be willing to host the first few meetings until your playgroup gets more members and you can start to rotate. Hosting a playgroup doesn’t have to be a huge deal. On the contrary, simple is better, especially for the kids. When we meet at someone’s home, we normally do a potluck and it always turns out awesome!
- In terms of activities, again, keep it simple! We’ve just started implementing circle time and we sing a few songs in Spanish and will soon start reading a simple book to the kids. But more often than not, we just let them be. Nothing’s better than free play in Spanish!
- If your group starts getting big, think about other places where you can meet other than someone’s home. Community centers, your local church, libraries or bookstores with children’s sections are all possibilities. Just call and ask. When the weather is nice–as is often the case in Colorado, even in winter–we meet at a park for a picnic. The kids love it!
To sign-off, I’ll let my friend and fellow Bilingual Tot member, Lili, tell all of you how important she thinks playgroups really are when raising bilingual kids:
“I personally think that it is not a choice, but a requirement. I truly feel that you MUST maximize your child’s opportunities to be around Spanish-speaking adults and children. Plus IT’S FUN!”
If you belong to a playgroup or you’re thinking about starting one yourself, we’d love to hear your story. Or, if you have any other tips or anything you want to share that would be helpful to others, please feel free to do so!