Last week James started his first playgroup session. I had originally planned to send him to playgroup when his 15 free hours come into force in January 2020, but I started to feel playgroup could be beneficial to him earlier. Although James’ speech is improving all the time, he often looks for reassurance when he says things, and on top of that he relies on me to psychically know exactly what he wants rather than using words. He isn’t very good at asking for things, unless it’s a chocolate egg, Peppa Pig or a snack, so I thought if he went to playgroup he would have to learn to communicate more and also learn to follow new rules and boundaries.
The playgroup we picked was the one that I went to when I was little, and also the one where he attended a toddler group. James is better in familiar environments so I thought there may be less of a transition from toddler group to playgroup if he was already familiar with the building. We were offered two afternoon slots on a Wednesday and Thursday from 12:30-2:30pm. Ideally I would have preferred mornings because I could have still tried to attempt a nap from him, especially as he is likely to get tired at playgroup, but they were full in the morning sessions. We decided to go ahead with the afternoon sessions thinking that he no longer naps everyday and playgroup will be beneficial to his development.
I love spending time with James and taking him to various places, so my biggest sadness about him starting playgroup was that I would have less time to visit places with him. It would be difficult to do too much before playgroup because he will need an early lunch, and afterwards he is likely to be tired.
We went on two half hour visits to playgroup before his starting date where I stayed, to allow him to familiarise himself with the set up. These visits went well as James loved being there, so much so he cried when we had to leave on the first visit. He immediately ran off and played with the toys or played outside, which I had expected because that is what he did at toddler group in the same building. It gave me the opportunity to talk to the playgroup leader about James and for her to answer any questions I had. I liked the setting of the playgroup, with different toy stations, role play areas, crafts and outside space. I was informed they encourage independent play which was great because James is happy playing independently.
As his start date got nearer I began to feel a bit sad and anxious about him starting playgroup. Was it the right decision as he will be the youngest there? Is he ready for it? Will he miss me? What if he wants me and I’m not there to help him? He is growing up so quickly and it was going to be the end of me being the only one looking after him during the day. Although at toddler group he would run off and play, he always knew that I was there watching him and if he wanted me he would come and get me. How would he feel if he went to find me and realised I wasn’t there? The thought of James wanting me and me not being there for him I found heartbreaking.
I spent the day before playgroup sticking name stickers on things, ironing name labels into his clothes and getting his bag ready; my little boy was growing up. I was apprehensive as to how James would be on his first session; I was hoping he would run off and play with the toys as he had during the visits.
As we arrived for his first session he seemed excited and was eager to get through the doors so he could get to the toys. He confidently ran off to play without a care and didn’t even look around for me. I quickly left as he seemed happy and later received a text from playgroup to inform me that James was settled playing in the rain outside and with the trains, but there had been a few tears when it came to understanding boundaries but they had settled him with a song. I felt quite positive about this and had expected him to have issues with boundaries. He’s a toddler after all and will often have a raging tantrum if he doesn’t get to go the way he wants to.
The two hours flew by whilst James was at playgroup and I went to see a friend. It was great to be able to chat without having a toddler interrupt. However, I was looking forward to picking James up and seeing how he had got on. I didn’t really know too much of what to expect but when I arrived the playgroup leader was carrying James around. He immediately seemed pleased to see me and was passed over to me while I discussed how he had got on. I was told that the most challenging part was getting James to sit down for the singing and story at the end, as he has been used to being able to run around during singing at the toddler groups he attends. There was also concerns about his understanding of instructions and how they think he gets frustrated because he doesn’t always understand things.
Although there was nothing in the feedback that wasn’t expected, it made me feel quite down. James’ development has accelerated over the last few months and I have been so proud of him, but over a two hour session playgroup won’t have been able to see this. He can say numerous words, put words together and even sing parts of some songs, but he is not going to display all of these things during his first session. I have realised that James will speak when he wants to, sometimes we talk to him and he completely ignores us if he doesn’t want to talk back and at other times he will respond to us really well. His understanding has also improved a lot but he is also used to his routine at home, at playgroup he needs to learn a new routine for how they do things and learn to understand new instructions.
I may have felt quite deflated after his playgroup session but James on the other hand seemed more than happy. He happily chatted and played with his toys for the rest of the afternoon. The drop off this week wasn’t quite as straightforward as he held my hand and didn’t want to let go. He had learnt that mummy doesn’t stay with him at playgroup and that meant this week we had tears. I ended up walking out while he was crying, but within about 10 minutes I received a text to say he had settled and was playing outside. When I went to pick him up he seemed happy and had a change of clothes on because he had got drenched from playing with water. His key worker informed me that although he didn’t get involved with group work he did play near them. I was able to see that he still wasn’t sitting down with the other children during story time, but he seemed content doing a puzzle to one side. When I went over to see him he started showing me a box and began pointing out toy trees and logs to me, things that we see lots of on our trips out.
I think playgroup is a learning experience for both James and I. We are both having to learn to adapt to time without each other, a new routine and the fact that he is growing up. James needs to learn to do more for himself and become more independent, whilst I need to stand back and let him. When I am finding it hard letting go of him, I just need to remember that playgroup is good for him.