Play and Learn Groups Get Creative

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we focused on the need to meet parents and families where they were. This happened quickly with online learning and home visits, but organizing virtual play groups was more complicated. Play and Learn Groups are one of the services that received Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage funding in early 2020.

Play and Learn Groups are a proven method to teach young children while also giving parents and caregivers valuable tools and resources to help them nurture learning and development. These groups provide activities for adults to play alongside their children while exploring different developmental domains.

Despite the challenges of providing this type of group service during a time of physical distancing, two organizations have found creative ways to connect with families in Kent County.

When the initial Stay at Home order was announced, Comprehensive Therapy Center (CTC) had just begun its program to provide Therapeutic Play Groups, with speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and dance/movement therapists.

CTC was able to pivot quickly. They now provide weekly videos for parents and caregivers to engage with their child(ren). CTC also offers two Zoom Q&A sessions (morning and evening) twice a month, inviting parents to join therapists with any questions or concerns they have about their babies and toddlers.

CTC has made it easy to participate in the virtual play and learn groups. Each week, three therapy videos and a Success Basics video are uploaded to the organization’s website. The videos are separated by discipline, allowing caregivers to find what works best for them. A resource section is also provided to help families better understand therapy techniques, best practices, and extension activities.

Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) was also awarded funding for its play and learn group, called Early Learning Communities (ELC). ELC is a collaborative, community-based partnership to enrich the quality early learning experiences of young children by strengthening the skills of early childhood caregivers and educators.

To continue services during the pandemic, GRCC turned to Instagram and weekly newsletters and provided families with “play and learn in a bag” kits every month.

The program’s Instagram feed has 114 followers and is growing; it provides families with activities to share with their child(ren) and an explanation as to why they are important and how they support the child’s development. Activities range from books, songs, videos, and play experiences that can be done with materials found around the home. Families especially like that their children get the opportunity to see the coach they had gotten to know during face-to-face sessions before the pandemic. Check out Instagram at: playandlearngrcc.The newsletters reach a couple hundred families every week, providing activities and resources and links to Instagram for additional early childhood information.

Families have been excited to receive the “play and learn in a bag” and have sent pictures of their child utilizing the materials. Home-based child care providers say the bags have given them valuable ideas and tools to help the children in their care.

The bags include a book, materials, and an activity sheet that encourages the caregiver to engage in play activities with their child. The materials are accompanied by information on the developmental skills supported by the materials, scaffolding activities based on the age of the child — infant through preschool.

ELC Play and Learn is available to all families in Kent County with children from babies to kindergarten age. All caregivers are welcome, including parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, and other family members as well as licensed child care providers and family, friend, and neighbor providers.

If you are interested in joining ELC Play and Learn, please email You will receive all materials being offered during physical distancing as well as information once face-to-face play groups resume.

Both organizations look forward to meeting in person again but will continue the distanced play and learn groups until it is safe to be together.

Photo courtesy of Comprehensive Therapy Center

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