Help Your Playgroup Survive Holidays and Vacation Breaks


Many playgroups experience low attendance at various times, but particularly after summer and holiday breaks. Because holiday and vacation breaks sometimes make it difficult to get back in the swing of things, it may take a little effort from you to regenerate interest and involvement. As leader of the group, you can start off by letting everyone know how important playgroup is to you by attending regularly yourself. Next, incorporate a few new ideas to get your members more involved in playgroup and to make them realize how important they are to playgroup. To improve attendance after a break, try these practical suggestions. 


During holiday or summer breaks, maintain communication with members. Send a playgroup holiday newsletter via email or snail mail, or make a few friendly, but short, phone calls over the busy summer just to talk. The object is to keep your group in the back of their minds even when they are busy with other activities. Then, when the break is over, organize a "Welcome Back" party to induce members to come back and at least visit the group.


Reminders are important! When playgroup resumes after a break, call or email members a day or two before each playdate. Many playgroups use group email services, such as Yahoo Groups and Google Groups, for this very purpose. Although a web site with an event calendar may be helpful, personal phone calls and emails help jog members' memory and make them feel special. If you have members without Internet access, consider publishing a monthly or quarterly newsletter with a calendar of events to post on their refrigerator.


As a courtesy, call or email those members who were absent from playgroup within a couple of days to let them know they were missed and to find out if they are still interested in playgroup. If they do not attend regularly, perhaps they should not be considered members. Morale will suffer if your group claims a membership of thirty, but only five show up for activities. Rather than low attendance, you actually may be experiencing low membership.


Indeed, review your membership every three or four months, and periodically add a notice in your newsletter or email group asking members to reply if they want to remain on the communications list. Before you actually delete them, however, send a follow-up email to those who do not respond, letting them know that they are being removed from the list. This will eliminate a few apathetic members.


Make changes

Maybe the problem is not apathy, but scheduling conflicts. Sometimes family schedules change after the holidays or summer break. Perhaps the day or time for playgroup is no longer convenient for the majority of members. Canvass the group and see if another day or time would be better for your members, then change it and see if it makes a difference. The Millbrook Area Playgroup met on Wednesdays when it first started, but changed to Thursdays after a few years to accommodate the changing needs of its members at the time. Sometimes delaying the start time by just 30 minutes will be all parents need to return to the group.


However, don't change the meeting days and times too much. One playgroup met on a different day each week depending on the schedules of its members that week, in an attempt to accommodate as many people as possible, but commitment to the group still remained low. However, once they set a definite day and time, attendance actually increased. Just like this group, you may be inclined to be as accommodating as possible so that everyone will be able to attend each week, but a successful playgroup cannot be too flexible. A variable meeting schedule can cause confusion; actually, the same day and time each week helps everyone remember it from week to week. Once playgroup members agree to a new schedule, do your best to stick to it for several months before you change it again.


Another change you can make is the location. If you meet in each others' homes, try meeting at the park to give hostesses a break occasionally. Perhaps members resent the extra work required to host playgroup in their homes, and the change in venue will engage members again. Similarly, if you normally meet in a central location, see if meeting in each others' homes will create a different atmosphere and generate more interest after the break.


Changing the format of your playdates can certainly improve the atmosphere of a stagnant playgroup. Maybe playgroup has gotten boring. Add a snack time to break up the playtime. Liven things up by organizing crafts and games for the children or arranging activities and guest speakers for the adults. Add simple but valued benefits for members as incentives to participate regularly, such as “in a pinch” services, babysitting co-op, monthly parties, or periodic Moms’ Nights Out. These services and activities provide additional opportunities for parents to get to know each other. Once they have made a few friends and feel like part of a group, your members will enjoy playgroup more and will likely make every effort to participate regularly.


Encourage input

Most people make an effort to participate regularly when they feel a vested interest in an organization. For example, if a parent suggests a craft her child would enjoy, she will be more inclined to attend that day so her child can participate. Similarly, if one parent organizes field trips or another parent schedules the clean-up rotation, they will feel involved in the group. If you plan all the activities, other members may hesitate to step in, especially if you seem to be doing a good job already. Let them know you would welcome their help, so delegate responsibilities and solicit ideas from your members. It may not be necessary to establish officers, but even ordinary tasks can make members feel needed, so devise rosters for such duties as hosting, gathering supplies, greeting newcomers, cleaning, and organizing crafts. This will encourage involvement and attendance.


Some groups charge membership dues to ensure attendance. Usually, if people have to pay for something, they are more likely to use it. Fitness clubs use fees as incentives all the time. Just be sure that members can see their dues being used in constructive ways. If your group already charges a membership fee, offer discounts to frequent members as an extra inducement to attend regularly.


In lieu of dues, consider instituting other requirements to generate involvement, especially if money is not necessary to the function of the group. For example, the only requirement for membership in the Millbrook Area Playgroup is for each mom to take her turn hosting playgroup in her home. The group follows a rotation based on alphabetical order. Usually, if a parent goes to the trouble of hosting playgroup on her turn in rotation, she will either terminate her membership or participate regularly.


By communicating regularly, making a few strategic changes, and encouraging input, you can increase involvement and regenerate interest in your playgroup after holiday and vacation breaks. Making members feel that they are integral to the group is the key to success for any organization. Once parents feel ownership of their playgroup, they will not only want it to succeed but will also work for its success. Implement some of these suggestions, and you will find your members eager to return to playgroup after any break.

About the Author:
Carren W. Joye is the author of A Stay-at-Home Mom's Complete Guide to Playgroups. A homeschooling mom of four children, she has founded four successful playgroups, one homeschool support group, and a homeschool co-op as well as helped start countless other playgroups around the world via