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children playing in a group setting

Whether it's starting school for the first time, joining T-ball or attending a parent-child music class together, it can be challenging for young children to learn how to interact in a group setting. That can be stressful (even for mamas!), but it's actually part of the value of enrolling your child in a class. They will learn not only about soccer or gymnastics, but about how to wait for a turn, how to make friends and how to control their impulses.

While we know these social interactions and even stumbles are important, we still want our children to have the best experience possible. No one wants their child to be the one always getting in trouble or fighting with other kids.

Here are a few methods to help your child succeed in group settings:

1. Communicate expectations

If it's your child's first foray into a group setting, tell them the expectations ahead of time. For a sports team, this might mean listening to the coach and keeping hands off the other kids. For a music lesson or story time, it might mean sitting down during the class.

Make sure to take a few minutes to reflect on whether the expectations are reasonable for your child too. Some 2- or 3-year-olds are simply not read for many group settings.

2. Give one-word reminders

If your child is struggling with a certain issue, like remembering to raise their hand to talk, think of a one-word reminder or gesture. Sometimes simply making eye contact and raising your own hand can be powerful. Use the reminder word as your child goes into class, or even send a little note in their pocket with the word and a little doodle.

3. Practice

Practice whatever challenge your child is working on at home. If they're struggling with coming when the teacher calls, take it to the backyard and practice running around, and then calling your child's name. Ask them to stop and look at you when you do this, and then give a silly instruction. Practicing following the rules can be a fun way to connect to your child.

4. Run around first.

If your child is going to school or a different class where they will be expected to sit for a while, help them release energy beforehand. Encourage them to run around the backyard or a nearby park for 20 minutes before you go. Exerting this abundant energy can help a child be successful when it's time so sit still.

5. Ask them to help you

This is one of my favorite tips I learned as a teacher and I use it with my own child regularly. If your child is struggling to follow a rule, ask them to help you remember. For example, if my son is struggling to walk (not run!) in music class, I say "I need your help. Will you please help me remember to walk today? If you see me running in music class say, 'Stop mama!"

It's fun and whimsical and makes your child feel like you're in this together.

6. Leave if necessary

Obviously you can't pull your child out of school, but if you're at an extracurricular class together and things are rapidly deteriorating, don't be afraid to call it a day. This isn't to punish your child, but to protect them.

If they're having an off day and simply can't handle a group setting at the moment, taking them home will protect them from feeling bad about themselves, from feeling the judging eyes of others on them, and from feeling your own disappointment in their behavior. Children can sense these things.

7. Talk to the coach or teacher

It can be hard to know if your child's behavior is within the range of normal. If you're unsure, talk to your child's coach or teacher. Ask if your child's behavior is normal, and if it's acceptable or causing problems for the class.

8. Check in

After they've attended a few times, check in with your child on how they think a group class is going. Do they like it? Is any part of it hard? Do they need help with anything? What's their favorite part? Encourage your child to judge their own behavior and struggles.

9. Talk about issues when you're both calm

Talk to your child about any behavioral issues you're seeing, but wait until you are calm. If you're feeling really angry or frustrated that your child was terrorizing art class today, it's not a good time for a productive discussion. When you're both calm, talk to your child about what you're seeing and ask for their input in coming up with a solution.

10. Notice good behavior

The last thing we want is to give our children the impression that they aren't good or that they're a problem child. Children internalize these impressions and tend to live up to the expectations. Make sure to notice your child's good behavior in a group setting, especially if they're struggling. Saying phrases like, "I like how you raised your hand to talk today" or "I noticed you being so respectful to your coach today" can go a long way towards boosting your child's confidence.

11. Empathize

Let your child know that you recognize being in a group setting can be a challenge. Say something like, "Remembering to raise your hand can be so hard" or "I know it's so frustrating when you really want a turn and you have to wait". You can even share an anecdote about a rule you've had trouble following to show your child you understand and that their struggles are normal.

12. Observe the other kids

We're naturally hyper focused on our own kids, which can make it seem like they're the only ones struggling to behave in a group. Next time you're with your child in a group setting, take a few minutes to watch the other children. Odds are, yours is not the only one struggling. Seeing this can help you keep perspective and understand reasonable expectations for a child of a given age.

It takes time for most children to learn how to be in a group. This is where they learn how to be respectful toward an authority figure, how to recognize and adhere to social rules and how to make friends. They have to do the hard work of figuring out these life lessons themselves, but using these strategies can help set them up for the best experience possible.

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They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

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Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

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Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

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Sand play set

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Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

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Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$189

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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