The play room at UCP is a toddler's dream come true. Basically, any toy you can imagine is in here, and there are a number of themed centers spread out around the very large carpeted room. You've got kitchens, sand box, dress-up, puppet theater, ride-ons, rocking toys, blocks, train table, musical instruments, books, and much more!! There's also an arts & crafts table set up with a project of the week, usually related to the book that will be read later. Families come in at their leisure since there's no official start to the class. Open play continues (parents and caregivers stay and monitor their children) for the first 90 minutes of the class for mixed ages and the first hour for 3's and 4's, after which there's a massive cleanup and the start of the structured teacher-led portion, usually led by the wonderful Jennifer Kruger, who's been running Union Church Playgroup for a decade now!
After cleaning up all the toys, children are seated at the table (grownups stand around behind them supervising), and are provided snacks - usually goldfish or animal crackers, and water or apple juice. You're welcome to bring your own snacks if you wish, just no peanuts or nuts due to the concern about allergies of other children. You're also provided with wet wipes, and there are bathrooms (with toddler seats) as well if you prefer to wash hands. While the children are eating, the teacher enthusiastically reads a story, asking questions and engaging the children.
In my experience, the transitions during the teacher-led period can be rather abrupt, which can be difficult for some kids. Some toddlers are getting cranky (ready for a nap) by this time. Cleaning up toys and moving from snack to music circle are always the hardest for my kids, but they all learn quickly and get used to the flow.
For the older preschool-aged kids, story and snack are at separate times, as they want to encourage the children to notice each other and chat during snack time. The teacher-led portion is longer, about 1 hour, consisting of snack, circle time with a story and a preschool concept related to the story (ex. counting, colors, shapes) and every child has a chance to come up and answer a question, gross motor activity (ex. Ring Around the Rosie, London Bridge, playing with a parachute), table top activity (in small groups so children can work together), and last but not least, the Run Around.
They hold free open house week before the start of each session (Fall - September through December, Winter - January through March, Spring - April through June)! Through Friday, September 15 you can attend one of their Open House sessions for free, no registration needed!! Open House classes are always a bit chaotic so take it with a grain of salt - the regular weekly playgroup will be less crowded but run in the same manner, so you'll get a good idea of the program. You'll have a chance to sign up for the session you prefer, but they fill up quickly so don't delay! Check the schedule here!
Sessions run from $148 for 8 classes to $240.50 for 13 classes (the number of classes varies by season), with a 25% discount for extra days and extra kids. And Union Church members pay half price!! Go here to see their 2017-2018 schedule and prices.
- The room can get a bit chaotic, transition times are quick, and music circle can get loud. Consider your child's needs and talk to the teacher if concerned. Some may find it helpful to come right at the start of class before most families arrive so the child can adjust to the room and noise more gradually. Others may find a pair of sound muffling headphones helpful, especially during music circle and run around - we had a child in my son's group a couple of years ago do this and it helped him tremendously.
- There are a few steps at the entrance, but a staff member is there to assist getting strollers into the church and will watch your stroller during the class since you'll leave it parked in the main lobby area. You'll proceed with your child down a narrow flight of stairs into the playroom, and there are 2 bathrooms down there.
- The play room can get quite warm. I highly recommend dressing yourself and your child in layers all year round.
- At the end of each class, hand stamps and lollipops are offered to each child. However, the teachers respect that some parents don't allow candy, so will look to the care giver for approval before officially offering it to your child! If you want to avoid this situation completely, you can leave a couple minutes early, or make an extended potty run with your child while the others are filing out of the room.
- They are very relaxed about missing classes and making them up - you don't need to notify them for either!! If your child is sick, simply skip the class and make it up at another day's class!
Also, be sure to check out our list of Classes & Activities for Bay Ridge Babies and Toddlers, a great resource providing a vast array of places your children will enjoy, and sign up to receive Bay Ridge Families' weekly kids' events roundup by e-mail!!