At some point, moms and dads who stay at home with their babies and toddlers begin to realize that getting out for a playgroup or class sounds like a good idea all around and they're right. Eventually a little one who only has eyes for you will want a playmate his own size.
Peer Play and Social Development
Most young children between the ages of 1 and 2 thrive in a play group and the benefits of being with children their own size and age goes beyond pure pleasure.
Dr. Michelle Boyer-Pennington, professor of psychology at Middle Tennessee State University, specializes in early childhood development and stresses the importance of same-age peer play for toddlers.
“Peers are important agents of socialization,” Boyer-Pennington says. Same-age peers serve a different role than parents and older siblings, too.
“Same-age peers are much less critical and directive,” explains Boyer-Pennington, “so children are freer to try out new roles, ideas and behaviors, thereby acquiring many social and personal competencies they might not otherwise learn in the parent-child/older sibling-child relationship,” she adds.
The best time for little ones to begin "reaching out" to others is in their first year.
“I think that children should have some exposure to other children at as early an age as possible,” Boyer-Pennington says. Babies become responsive to other children’s emotions and actions at about 6 months of age.
“In particular, babies this age take great pleasure in imitating each other,” Boyer-Pennington explains. “They often gaze and smile at their partners as they turn their imitative sequences into social games.”
More Ways to Socialize for Babies
Play groups are not the only option for toddler socialization. Parents can choose a more structured social setting such a library storytime or a Mommy and Me class.
My Gym is a nationally franchised program offering developmental play for babies as young as three months up to children 9 years of age. Parents of children ages 3 and under participate in the classes and help their babies and toddlers learn skills such as hanging and tumbling. Stacy Weber, owner of My Gym in Brentwood, says that parents of young children without siblings find their toddlers particularly enjoying other children in class and learning from them as well.
There are all kinds of Mommy and Me classes in music and movement for tots in our area today. Popular program in early childhood music and movement use music and parent guidance to nurture a child’s cognitive, emotional, social, language and physical development.
What to Expect
Bringing young children together does not always result in instantaneous group play. Most 1-year-olds participate in parallel play, playing side by side but not with each other. This does not mean they are not enjoying and learning from the other child’s presence. Marilyn Segal, Ph.D., writes in Your Child at Play: Age One to Two Years (William Morrow; 1999) “even when they are not playing together, toddlers spend a good deal of time watching and imitating each other.”
Every so often a conflict can arise, often related to sharing or a little one taking a toy away from another. Until toddlers can resolve conflicts verbally, it is reasonable to expect a tug of war over toys, a hostile takeover of a tricycle and even some tooth marks on a cheek or shoulder. Be assured that toddlers generally fight less than they play peacefully, and even conflicts can be a learning experience. With adult intervention, toddlers will learn this is not an acceptable form of behavior.
Remember, play is child’s work. By providing companions, you are not only making your child’s job more exciting, you are paving the way for a lifetime of friendships.
Social Activities for Tots