Simsbury families could benefit from a new business, created by a West Hartford resident, that aims to bring families with young children together into playgroups to encourage friendships, learning and personal growth amongst both parents and kids.
Meredith Donnelly, who holds a master’s degree in early childhood education, has been working on the concept of Homegrown Friends for the past three and a half years. The company, which is currently a one-person endeavor and entirely Internet-based, will match interested families with children up to three years old to create playgroups. The matches are based on proximity, the age of the children and the personal preferences of parents. The company distributes age-appropriate curriculums and provides a forum for parents to communicate as well as buy, sell and exchange children’s items.
“Our goal at Homegrown Friends is to help parents and children find meaningful friendships while using our expertise in early childhood education to create age-appropriate activities to help play groups run smoothly,” Donnelly said.
That educational component, guided by Donnelly’s education and experience as a teacher, features six different curriculums divided by age groups from 0 – 6 months old to 3 years old. Groups will be limited to a maximum of four children, as Donnelly said the small size allows in-depth activities to be successfully conducted.
Curriculums include suggestions for books, music and activities as well as nutrition, an important part of learning that is often overlooked, she said. Members rotate leading the groups, heading up two weeks of each plan. That allows parents to spread the responsibility of running the group and simply focus on interaction and education when they’re not in charge.
The company will launch in areas in six states, including Connecticut, on August 20. The current Connecticut area is made up of Avon, Farmington, Simsbury and West Hartford, along with Bloomfield and Glastonbury.
Donnelly will grow the company if it’s successful and expanding to other Farmington Valley towns Granby and Canton is part of her plan. She’s already had requests for the company to operate in other areas as well.
“My goal is that this will be a national brand,” she said. “People are already saying, ‘I wish you were launching in my city.’”
Donnelly said she believes people are moving more and staying in the same place for less time, so it’s harder to have the connections that made creating and joining playgroups easier in the past. She pointed out that the company is equally focused on fostering positive relationships and development for children and parents.
Having moved multiple times herself – Donnelly arrived in West Hartford with her family on Jan. 2, 2011 – she said she noticed “a need for parents, especially in the early years … to find friendships and share the joy of parenting.”
Donnelly said that while there are already playgroup services and newcomers clubs in the areas where Homegrown Friends will launch, she believes the strong educational component, ease of use and presence of additional communication tools like forums will make her business stand out. The ability to quickly find other families is another strength of her program.
“[Current services] are not as consistent and are small,” she said. “I didn’t find a consistent, national service.”
A year’s membership in Homegrown Friends, which includes an 8-week learning course, costs $50. Members can purchase additional courses but are not required to do so. If no matches are found for members, they can receive a refund.