Starting out in motherhood or arriving in a new country with young children can be a daunting time, especially when your close friends and family are not nearby. The support of one’s peers on the rollercoaster ride of parenting cannot be underestimated – and that is where Kampala’s growing Playgroup scene can be a lifesaver.
What is a playgroup?
Playgroups are groups of mums and young children, usually set up and organised by mums themselves, who meet regularly to socialise in an informal setting. I say mums, as all the playgroups, I know of in Kampala are made up 90-100% of mums (or nannies), apart from those that meet on weekends. When I asked one group why this is, Emma said “men are not as interested in sitting around with other dads, talking about their kids. They perhaps don’t need the support network as much”. Gemma added “there are still very few dads who stay at home with their kids, and our group meets in the mornings, so it is not really an option for dads.” Playgroups meet on different days of the week, but most playgroups meet regularly on the same day and time weekly, even on Saturdays.
Playgroups are as important for parents as they are for the children. It’s not just about socialisation, -which is an important skill for young children- but also about mums offering each other support, sharing ideas and tips about parenting in Kampala, as well as networking. Many playgroups rotate around individual houses, which is why, for safety reasons, you don’t see them advertised outright. The majority of playgroup mums I spoke to found their playgroup by one of two ways – meeting another mum who attends the group, or through Facebook. There are several active Facebook groups which are great for hunting down Kampala playgroups, whether you’re searching previous posts or posting to ask for information: the best ones to try are Kampala Expats 3.0; Kampala Expats 2.0 or Expat Moms in Kampala. A quick search in the groups brings up 6 different playgroups. The mums in the groups are generally very friendly and willing to welcome members the way they were welcomed into the group.
“I took my kids to an indoor play place and met another mum there who had also taken her kids to play. We got chatting and she told me about their playgroup and asked if I wanted to join” narrates Rebecca, who attends an after school playgroup in Ntinda/Bukoto. “Since then I go virtually every week, I have made some of my closest friends in Kampala there, and my kids have also made a lot of friends too.” Nommie found out about the playgroup she attends in Muyenga through her daughter’s pre-school: “my daughter made a good friend at school so I tracked down her mother and asked her for a playdate. Instead the mum invited us over to the playgroup which was being hosted at her house and I have been going every week since.”
Home-based playgroups are often made up of mums who live in the same geographical area so you don’t have far to travel. The host prepares snacks or refreshments and mums chat whilst the children play. Rarely do all members make it every week. Pitte says “we have about 30 mums in our WhatsApp group where we discuss who is to host, but typically there are between 5 and 10 of us at any one time. There are always different combinations of people so the group dynamics are different every week.” Kids also get to play with different toys and meet a variety of children of all ages. There are also nanny playgroups, where children get to socialise with other children, so even if you have to work, your child still gets the benefits of interacting with other children.
Apart from Facebook, another way to track down a playgroup is to go where other parents meet with their kids. As you meet new parents, you will find out more about other playgroups. For example the Positive Birth Group meets every last Sunday of the month at Olives-Naguru at 4.30pm. It’s free to attend and you don’t need to book. Just turn up with your kids, and whilst the kids play, you get to meet other parents or parents to be. Another example is Play and Learn, a more formal playgroup for children between 6 and 18 months held on weekday afternoons at KCIP in Naguru. This playgroup has a trained leader and focuses on early socialisation and sensory-based activities. It’s in the afternoon so great for those who work mornings only, and a fantastic way to meet like-minded parents.
If you can’t find a playgroup in your area, don’t be afraid to start one yourself. It is a great way to be social without it costing a fortune. You don’t need any special equipment. You can start with one or two parents and invite others that you know to join you, or post on one of the Expats Facebook pages. You can hold it at a venue with a playground such as Olives, Dancing Cup or Café Roma in the beginning if you are unsure about inviting strangers into your house. Before you know it, you’ll have other new mums asking to join you!