Why Playgroups? Kids Learn About Their World in Them

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By Michelle Smith Howard

Alexandria, VA – Many families with young children, especially first-time parents, are curious about playgroups. What are they? What happens in them? Why are they important to a child’s development? How can my child get into a playgroup?

Kids’ First Years (KFY), a collective impact initiative that supports care and education for Alexandria’s young children and their families, has some answers.

What are playgroups?

The Oxford dictionary defines a playgroup as “a regular meeting of a group of preschool children, organized by parents for their children to take part in supervised creative and social play.”

Playgroups can occur in a home, at a park, in a community center, or anywhere that a group of families and caregivers arrange to meet up with their little ones for some quality playtime.

What happens in playgroups?

For the best outcomes, playgroups should take place within a specific timeframe (usually 1-2 hours max) to align with the child’s attention span and tolerance level, which lengthens as the child matures. Playgroups are not rambunctious free-for-alls; they should include age-appropriate, hands-on activities so the child can safely play with various types of toys. A healthy snack can be included if desired.

Since 2009, the Center for Alexandria’s Children (CAC) has conducted weekly “Learn & PlayGroupsÔ” primarily for families of children ages 0-5 years old. Learn & PlayGroups created its curriculum to deliver a high-quality playgroup experience at no cost to families that live in the City of Alexandria. At each Learn & PlayGroup, a unique lesson is provided within a monthly unit where grownups and children can play, sing songs, and have fun exploring their surroundings together.

KFY is excited to announce that CAC will facilitate the monthly Connect & Play sessions that KFY began in the fall of 2022. Sessions are scheduled from 10-11 am on the first Friday of each month unless otherwise noted (see dates in the Connect & Play graphic) at the William Ramsay Recreation Center, 5650 Sanger Ave.

Each Connect & Play session’s curriculum will focus on a specific topic that kids love to learn about, along with coordinated activities during the hour and suggestions for easy things that families and caregivers can do at home. Every child will leave with a bag filled with playthings.

“We always point out where The Basics can be used to boost a child’s brain development,” said Sheena Arting, CAC’s Learn & PlayGroup Coordinator. She noted that two of the CAC’s weekly Learn & PlayGroup facilitators, Aida Raygada and Nimata Opata, will jointly facilitate the monthly KFY Connect & Play sessions. The Basics are five simple yet powerful principles that parents, caregivers, and childcare providers can use to help young children thrive. Learn more at

Arting shared that “Sort It Out” is the curriculum topic for the March 3 Connect & Play session. “We’ll be talking about shapes, counting, and matching. Every child will go home with a sorting toy.” See the Connect & Play graphic for the featured curriculum topics from March to June.

Why are playgroups important?

“Play is the job of a child,” said Arting. “It’s how they learn about their world and understand how it works. Also, playgroups help children engage and communicate with other kids and grownups – skills that are so important for school readiness.”

Additionally, playgroups address the social and emotional development that helps children manage their feelings and express themselves. “In the April session about insects, we will ask, ‘how does seeing an insect make you feel?’” said Arting. “We let them know that it’s OK to feel scared or nervous or even happy and excited when they see bugs.”

Another benefit of playgroups is that they give parents and caregivers a little taste of what preschool will be like. In a playgroup, adults can watch the children learn and figure things out. “I love to see the connections between children and their grownups, to see the smile on their faces when a discovery is made. It’s wonderful to witness, and I’m so lucky to have this job.”

How to get into a playgroup?

That’s easy! Signing up for KFY’s monthly Connect & Play sessions is free, but pre-registration is requested for planning purposes. Register at or email [email protected]. Come, have a cup of coffee, connect with other adults, and see what playgroups are all about.

To connect with CAC’s weekly Learn & PlayGroup, visit or email Sheena Arting at [email protected].

Michelle Smith Howard is president and CEO of Kids’ First Years, a collective impact initiative working with 19 City of Alexandria departments and local associations to build an equitable and accessible early care and education system. KFY’s mission is to give every Alexandria child a great start in life so they can be healthy, do well in school, and have strong relationships with their families and friends.

ICYMI: Alexandria’s Summer Camp Guide Available Now; Register Starting Feb. 22

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