How I became a dumb-ass and started a tot group.
March 22, 2011

When Charlotte was about four or five months old, a few parents I know who have older kids began getting together once a week to finger paint a la Artful Parent.  A few months after that, a good friend of mine sent me a link to this article about so-called “messy parties.”  Around the time that my daughter figured out crawling, a relative mentioned that when their children were young they lived near someone who hosted a nature play-group and took the neighborhood kids on bushwalks followed by earth-crafts every few weeks.

Sometime around Halloween, a fellow mom and I took our young’uns to the park and started talking about all of the different play-groups we’ve each taken part in since becoming parents.  Then we started daydreaming.  Wouldn’t it be nice, I said, if we could find a group that met NEARBY and had messy play activities and focused on art and science and nature and let kids run amock and met at someone’s house so that moms could interact more easily and and and and and…?

“Well,” she said, “Sarah, you’ve got the perfect house for that sort of thing.  Why don’t you organize it yourself?”  And the more I thought about it, the more I thought she was right.  I started attending two regular sensory and nature play-groups a few weeks later and looking around, I thought, okay, I can do this.  I have the outdoor space, I live in a fixer-upper so I don’t mind mess, my kid really likes finger paint, there are tons of great resources for fun activities with children…I can do this.

Four months later, I feel very confident saying that this?  THIS IS EASIER SAID THAN DONE.


Charlotte at art in the kitchen. Places the paint ended up: the floor, her body, her hair, my clothes, the art cabinet, the doorway, and inside the dog kennel.  A little bit also made it onto the paper.

The two of us wanted a group that focused on natural play-scapes and embraced making a giant, incredible mess.  We wanted a group that provided a healthy snack so that nobody had to worry about their kid not having a lunch – and health freaks in the crowd could rest easy.  We wanted a group that didn’t mind home-made play-dough and that enjoyed being a part of long-term science experiences like growing plants and watching insect life cycles.  We wanted a group where a mud-pie kitchen and a water pump and some children’s folk music could fit right in.  We wanted a group that moms were proud to be a part of - a group that could form a community that extended beyond meeting once a week to make nature walk collages.

Before I became a parent, I always rolled my eyes at parents who said that planning things was stressful and time-consuming.  I always thought DUH, that’s why you plan, TO SAVE TIME, DUMB ASS.  I had no idea that creating the type of play-group I want for my daughter would turn me into one of those parents, but it certainly has.

What does your ideal play-date look like?  How do you feel about hosting messy events?


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  1. By on March 22, 2011

    Man, I wish I lived close to you. Those type of playgroups are my ideal. A friend of mine and I just recently began homeschooling our kids (two 2 year old boys and my 3 year old girl) and we are all about letting the kids make messes and exploring and experiencing. I just wish we knew more people close in proximity for this sort of stuff. Unfortunately, we live in a small space not well suited for get-togethers but I’m sure that will change one day.

  2. By tracey on March 22, 2011

    Heh. I hate organizing for other people’s kids. Really. My idea of an art project is to throw paint and paper and glue and scissors on the table and let them have at it.

    Not everyone appreciates my idea of “art.“

    Except for my own kids who have imaginations and make STUFF from GARBAGE and I love it.

    My recommendation, as a former scout leader and current co-leader of a homeschool group: be specific on what you want help with. As in, “You bring paper towel rolls. You bring apples. You bring wine and straws.“  Seriously. Specifics and demand help!

    Have fun, though!

  3. By Sara on March 23, 2011

    My daughter just turned one year, and we love messy activities - we’ve just start finger painting on the concrete. I would love to find a group like this (we have a dog, who is deadly afraid of tots, so hosting every week would be hard). How did you go about setting one up? Or finding like-minded moms for it? And ideas? Do you have and books or resources that you can recommend?? (and I’d to see your list of kid-friendly places in the LA area since we live here as well….)


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