We all feel the pressure as parents. The pressure to provide our children with the best education, the newest toys, the cutest clothes, the healthiest food, and the most amazing childhood ever. If we fail in any one area on any single day, we have failed as a parent. Right? WRONG! Thank goodness. Let me just say, parents, give yourself a break. You're doing a great job raising your little humans!
Now that we've cleared that up, South Brooklyn parents of children under the age of 4 - nervous about how to prep your kids for going off to school, bored of your regular routine, wanting to socialize your toddlers and yourself - I'm very pleased to introduce you to Union Church Playgroup (or UCP) in Bay Ridge!!
Running for 20 years now, UCP is an amazing playgroup for toddlers and preschoolers and their parent or caregiver, serving about 100 families a week in the heart of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. They have two types of (non-drop-off) playgroups: mixed-age (for walkers through age 4) and 3's & 4s (kind of a preschool alternative or pre-preschool). Personally, I've only been to the mixed-age playgroup, which consists of 90 minutes of open play followed by 30 minutes of structured teacher-led activities (I'm told 3's & 4's program is more of a 50/50 split). Read on for more elaboration and how to check out a class for free!
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!
Teacher-Led Period (Mixed-Ages Playgroup):
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.
After story and snack comes cleanup, followed immediately by music circle - the kids grab a musical instrument and jam along to one song on the floor. Next up is a finger play, sometimes related to the book and craft from earlier. Something along the lines of The Wheels on the Bus or The Itsy Bitsy Spider. Last but certainly not least, as it's my personal favorite, is the beloved "RUN AROUND" which is exactly what it sounds like. They turn on a song and the kids run in one giant circle, high fiving adults as they pass by. There are giggles and squeals, and the occasional face plant, it's fun for all!
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.
Teacher-Led Portion (3's & 4's Group):
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.
Held in the basement of the Union Church of Bay Ridge (7915 Ridge Boulevard, just a block from bustling 3rd Avenue and less than half a mile from the R train's 77th Street subway station), I really can't recommend this playgroup highly enough. It's an amazing way to socialize your child and yourself! While your little one is playing alone or with other children, you can meet lots of other parents and caregivers and maybe even make some lifelong friends (I'm not even kidding, many moms have become besties here!).
So, what do you think? Have you been to Union Church Playgroup before, or have another activity to recommend in the Greater Bay Ridge area? Leave a comment below, and click the "share" button if you have a friend you think might be interested in UCP!!
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!!
This review was sponsored by Union Church Playgroup, however all thoughts and opinions are my own.
I'm a NYC metro area mom blogger living in NJ with my Japanese husband & our 3 kids (twins plus 1), focusing on fun and honest product and travel reviews, saving moms time finding the best for their families! Find what you need in the menu bar or search section above!