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Immersion Playgroups: Peer Pressure At Its Best!
The question parents most frequently ask is, "How do we find ways for our kids to interact more with others in the minority language?" There is no better way to motivate kids to learn a language than to make it part of their interaction with other children. The kids don’t even have to be the same age.

So, if you have problems getting enough interaction in the minority language, joining or even starting a playgroup is the absolute best thing you can do. You’ll love the playgroup, too because you’ll gain invaluable support from other parents like you who are raising multilingual children. Not only will you have a peer group to share your experiences, ask questions, and learn from, but you’ll start building a network of other speakers of your language in your local area.

Aside from giving your child more opportunities to hear, speak, and interact with children their own age in your language, they’ll also make friends which will provide enormous motivation for them to learn the language. (For once, group pressure actually works in your favor!) They may even remain friends with some of the children for a long time. Playmates are probably the very best way to ensure continuous language exposure over the years, especially as Mom and Dad lose their coolness factor.

How Do You Start Your Own Language Immersion Play Group?

The obvious place to start is the internet. You can try to find an existing group in your area. But if one doesn’t exist, definitely don’t hesitate to start your own! Here are some pointers:

The organizer As the organizer you’ll be the coordinator of the playgroup, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll be doing all the work. Make sure you rotate the responsibility of coming up with the activities and hosting. At first, you must be willing to post your name and some of your contact information, at least an e-mail, in order for people to reach you. Once your group is up and running, you’ll be able to take advantage of the free online invitation services like E-vite to communicate with the group. This really simplifies things by automatically sending reminders, showing who’s coming, etc. Be sure to provide nametags; simple printer stickers and a marker work well.

Number of members Fewer than three is not really a group, but go ahead and start anyhow! On the other hand, more than ten regular members are a very large crowd for anybody’s home. If you get so many members, consider splitting up the group, either according to location or the age of the children. Alternatively, if you have the opportunity to rent a meeting place at a community center, you can have fun without worrying about too many people.

Activities and program Keep it simple. For most ages you can have some variation of this:

  • Meet up and have circle time. Start out by e.g. singing a welcome song with everybody’s name in it.
  • Read books — larger books are the better so that all the kids in the circle can see.
  • Sing and dance (use recorded music if you don’t have a musician in your group.) Almost anything can serve as a drum for the kids and a simple scarf makes dancing much more fun!
  • Free play.
  • Clean up and end with a goodbye song.

Other ideas, for older kids.

  • Have a theme for the week.
  • Ask children to bring things from home to talk about (related to the theme.)
  • Guessing activity or mystery hunt.
  • Craft activity of some kind, or board games and puzzles.

Meeting place When you’re getting close to having ten families regularly attend, and you don’t want to split the group, you probably need to find another place to meet. Possible locations to try are community centers, library with children’s sections, or even day-cares or schools. For working parents Saturdays are a popular meeting day, and many places are not in use on the weekends, e.g. schools, making it easier to find a space.

Regardless, the rent cannot really exceed $3 per family per session, so you’ll have to be a bit creative. Check if you are eligible for any grants or support. Your embassy may know if there is any money to support ‘heritage languages’ abroad. The downside of moving to a new location is that you need to transport your play materials. Alternatively, you might arrange something with an existing child friendly location and have them run the program with you bringing some language specific materials. Even though your local park is nice when the weather is good, we don’t recommend it since it is very difficult to keep the children from playing with other children outside your group.

Group rules Don’t get too formal, but at least agree that parents must be present and must take responsibility for their own children at all times.

Marketing Print up some flyers to post around town. After putting them in the usual places like grocery stores, play grounds, schools / daycares, try the language faculty of your local college or university, a commercial language school teaching your language to adults, local restaurants serving your native cuisine, and shops selling products from your country. Also see if you can get included in a community newsletter or local parenting groups on the web.

It will be great fun to put the playgroup together, and I know more than one language school that started as a small parent run playgroup. Who knows where you will end up?

We’d love to see what you’ve done and know how your playgroup is coming along, so please drop us a line!

Related Articles
  • Even better than a play group — an immersion program.
  • Not enough time together? Make the most of the language exposure.
  • How do you set realistic goals? What about literacy?
  • More ideas that stimulate language learning.
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Your Guide to Raising Bilingual Children