How to Start a Neighborhood Playgroup (and then move to the other side of town)

I've been trying to get a playgroup going in my neighborhood for months, reaching out at various points to neighborhood moms via our SOMA Mamas facebook page. Though I got some interest, schedules didn't match up and we never got anything going.

When I started volunteering with GGMG, I learned more about Toddler Playgroups and reached out to the committee chair for more information. This was probably back in August/September. Putting together an official GGMG playgroup, where you actually get a budget (yay!) was a bit more time-consuming than I had realized. It requires a weekly standing playdate, a monthly moms night out and a quarterly themed party. I knew it was more than I could take on by myself at that point but still felt it was really important to get something going in our neighborhood. I reached out to our neighborhood fb page again, but this time shared a few more details about getting the official group going, and luckily several moms (who I had become friends with in the past few months) volunteered to help out with it.

So I got the ball rolling with a first meeting over wine with the moms who wanted to help. We divvied up tasks and then I caught up with the committee chair to get all the logistics going. I had no idea how tedious it going to be, how many emails, etc. BigTent is the platform used to serve our online forums, events, etc. so I had to get a page for the group loaded, create events, send emails, etc. etc. Sounds easy, but BigTent is a pain to use, it's not very intuitive and I was so nervous about accidentally sending something to all 4500 GGMG moms. Luckily that didn't happen.

So after about a month of setting everything up, I was feeling so great about getting this playgroup going for the neighborhood. Dave and I had discussed how it probably made sense to stay in our current place for a few more years before finding a home in our preferred neighborhood across town. We were in agreement on this and made me feel like all the work on the playgroup was a good investment.

Fast forward about 3 days after this conversation when a place comes on the market on Sunday night. It was on our ideal street -- we had fallen in love with a house a few doors down back in June, but it had been totally renovated and was out of our budget. This one was updated, but not as extensively, and was therefore within reach. Unfortunately Dave left for the East Coast that Monday morning. We talked to our agent and worked out that I would see the place Tuesday during a brokers' open. I saw it, sent Dave a video tour and some photos and we put an offer in late that night, which was accepted late the next night. That was October 15. Dave saw the place a few days later during the inspection, luckily he liked it as much as I do. After a few minor delays, as of today, we are officially homeowners!

We negotiated to get sole ownership of the backyard and are so excited to have some outdoor space for the boys. The backyard needs some work, but is useable in the meantime. We're looking to make some changes to the kitchen, but not a complete remodel. Overall, it's a great place, has some character, but has been updated and has great flow between rooms which can be hard to find in San Francisco homes. Best of all, we love the neighborhood. It's just that -- feels like a neighborhood, but is just half a block from shopping and restaurants. It's within minutes of so many places I go with the kids and for myself. I was just telling Dave today that I take Pine/Bush back and forth across the city  at least 5 times a week, basically going to where we'll be living. I'm now walking distance to the JCC where a lot of my meetings are held, and we're a quick 5-minute drive from our church and JLSF HQ. The huge downside...Dave's commute will now be a lot tougher. No longer walking distance from the train station, he either has a long, slow drive to Palo Alto, or has a 15-20 min uber ride to caltrain, which I think is preferable at this point. We both feel really good about it though and feel like it's the perfect place for the boys to grow up. I love that while it is neighborhood-y, it's still really central and you can be downtown in 15 minutes.
our new neighborhood just happened to be highlighted in the most recent GGMG magazine
So back to how to start a playgroup... of course it was bad timing to invest all this into getting the group going, but the good news is, I've now convinced one of the other moms to take over as 'Ambassador'. I really do hope the group continues as there are so many moms in SOMA but as with anything, you need a few that will really drive it and then others will come.

We've had several playdates already. The first one was the Monday before Halloween and I had everyone bring their kids in costumes. It worked out great! We had at least 12 kids come which I felt was a good turn out for the first one. We've had brand-new moms come as well with their tiny babies, just wanting to get out and meet other moms while on maternity leave. This is exactly what I wanted to do, get more people out to meet each other and build more of a neighborhood feel.

So here are my top tips to getting a playgroup started:
  • Stir up interest by talking to moms you meet or moms you already know about the idea of a playgroup
  • Recruit several other moms who are dedicated to getting it going with you. These should be people who are ready to step up and actually help and are also good at reaching out to other moms.
  • Be identifiable (wear a specific hat, etc) and be outgoing at the playdates. Work to connect moms, introducing people, making conversation with those who are more reserved, etc.
  • Market your events - we use BigTent, our facebook page and I tell any mom I meet in the neighborhood about it
  • Invite your other friends from other parts of town to join -- especially in the beginning, a good turnout will make it more appealing for people to come again in the future
  • Don't stress about the age of the kids. I've found it's worked fine with moms of babies coming, as well as moms of older toddlers.
  • Keep the same location, day of the week, and time, so people can drop by easily and know you'll be there
  • Choose a low-key playground so moms can actually have a shot at having a conversation without stressing about swings, tall play structures, etc.
  • Plan moms-only events. We have our first moms night last night, and to be honest, I wasn't expecting too many more than the core group of planner. But it was a huge success! Moms kept coming and we kept adding chairs. I meant to get home by 9 to let Jessica get home, but stayed out until after 10. Multiple moms came up to me thanking me for getting it going, saying they didn't know any moms in the neighborhood and were so excited to meet people. Everyone was asking about the next one.
  • Don't move out of the neighborhood shortly after starting it! I'm so bummed about this aspect but am lucky that I'm heading to a neighborhood that has an active toddler playgroup going, in fact, they hold several each week. I think I'll continue to do a few events in this neighborhood as well.
First Moms Night Out - and this was before everyone arrived!

So we're enjoying the last few weeks at The Brannan. There are so many things I'm going to miss about this neighborhood... definitely worthy of a separate post. Move date is December 4 and there are about a million things going on between now and then.

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