Playgroups and Play Dates

Playgroups and Play Dates

Community Playgroup Programs

There are centres and programs throughout Manitoba that offer community drop-in programs and playgroups for children and their family members. It is important to talk with the community program before attending to get information on how the program is administered. Keep in mind that some drop-in programs may be more autism friendly than others. This will give you an idea if the programming is appropriate and suits you and your child’s needs.

For Preschoolers

Parent Child Coalitions

Parent child coalitions are community-based programs and activities that children aged birth-6yrs and families can attend. Programs and activities offered focus on positive parenting, education on nutrition and physical health, literacy through the Mother Goose program, and play activities with children. Programs and activities in each coalition can be on a drop-in or registration basis. Each parent child coalition offers different programs that reflect the community’s unique needs.

Currently, there are 26 funded parent child coalitions in Manitoba. There are 12 locations in rural Manitoba, 13 locations in Winnipeg, and 1 location that serves the Francophone community.

For a complete list of parent-child coalition locations and contact information throughout Manitoba, please review the following document:

To learn more about parent-child coalitions, please visit: 

School Division Preschool Drop in Programs

Below are the drop-in programs offered in Winnipeg school divisions for families with preschool children. Visit the websites to get more information on programs, schedules and how to get involved.

*Please note: It is important to contact your local school division to find out if they offer, or are aware of, any type of preschool drop-in programming for children and parents.

Other Centers

  • Winnipeg Community Centres – community centres in Winnipeg may offer drop-in playgroups for your child. Contact your local community centres to find out if they offer any playgroup programs for parents and children. Visit to find the community centre in your area.
  • Rural Manitoba – community centres in rural Manitoba towns may offer playgroups or drop-in programs. Contact your town’s community center to find out if they offer any playgroup or drop-in programs.

For Youth/Young Adult

  • Leisure Guide – The City of Winnipeg provides multiple free drop-in programs to youth and young adults aged 6-19 yrs throughout the year. Drop-in locations, activities, and scheduling times can be found in the “ Priceless Fun – Free Programs” guide from the Winnipeg Leisure Guide website at:
  • YMCA – The North Y Youth Centre offers a drop-in centre for youth 6 – 19 yrs. Members pay $5/year to use all drop-in programs. Many programs are offered, such as basketball, volleyball, dodgeball, soccer, skate park, etc. To get more information on schedules, activities, and other programs, visit the YMCA- YWCA of Winnipeg website at:

Planning Play Dates

Because individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulties with social communication and relationships, planning ahead and thinking about how to arrange play dates will benefit your child’s overall play date experience. Below is a post from the Autism Discussion Page (on Facebook) that provides a good overview to parents who have a child with ASD on how to plan a successful play date.

Most parents with children on the spectrum want to encourage cooperative play to foster eventual friendships for their children. However, simply pushing them into unstructured play with two or three children often results in failure. Learning how to co-regulate interaction and relate with other children is a complex task, that takes a lot of structured, facilitated opportunities. I usually recommend to parents to start with short, one on one play dates. Play dates that can be planned ahead of time, previewed and reviewed with the child in advanced, and facilitated to maximize success. I recommend doing the following for maximizing “peer play” or what some call “play dates.”

1. Developing peer play is a long and complex journey that needs to begin within the child’s comfort zones, start simple, and build gradually. Relating with others can be very taxing and draining for your child. It requires extensive “thinking” and multi-tasking. Keep the initial play dates brief and very simple activity that is easy to regulate.

2. If you don’t know any children to invite for play dates, ask the teachers at school if there are any children that your child expresses interest in or vise versa. Try to pick a child who may have similar interests and/or disposition. Keep it only one child. Trying to regulate interactions with multiple children is extremely difficult for our children.

3. Try to find out as much about the peer as possible. Talk to the parents if possible and make a list of likes and dislikes, and favorite activities. Try to identify a few activities that each child will have in common, and can be used to build the play dates around. The simpler the activity the better. Long complex activities, with multiple steps, may tax your child too much. Use activities your child is familiar with. This way the child already feels competent with the activity and allows you to focus your attention on facilitating social play, rather than teaching “how to” do an activity.

4. Plan ahead and preview what is going to happen. Make a list of what possible activities the child and his friend is going to play. Try to schedule out the play date, with possible substitute activities if things do not go right. Always have a plan B ready.

5. Discuss with the child ahead of time the following:

  • What he can expect to happen; lay it out for him;
  • What will be expected of him;
  • How long it will last;
  • How he might handle any anticipated problems (sharing, taking turns, choosing activities, not getting his way, etc.).

6. Based on past play dates, discuss any problems he may of had, and how he should handle them in the future. If possible, role play them. Also role play any new games or activities, so he is familiar with them.

7. Prepare the activity the night before, and then review everything again just before the event.

8. During the activity, observe closely and help scaffold the activity if needed. Let the activity flow naturally, unless you see little signs that your child is getting dis-regulated. When you see possible problems (break down in regulation), then provide subtle redirection to help repair the breakdown

9. After the activity is over, sit down with the child and review how it went. Talk about what went well and what snags may have occurred. From your observations, pick one or two possible problems you saw, and reviewed this with him how he may want to handle them (taking turns, sharing, taking turns choosing activity, etc.). Try to have one main objective (social skill) that you are working on to help develop greater cooperative play skills.

10. Make a journal with a page for each play date. Make an outline form to fill out with the following information. Divide it in two sections:

  • Preparation: List of potential activities, plan B, potential problems with possible solutions.
  • Post Activity: What activities where played, what worked well, what snags occurred and what to try next time.

11. If you notice that the friend is perplexed about, or uncomfortable with, your child’s behavior, than explain to the friend “what and why” your child is acting that way. Children feel most uncomfortable when they don’t understand what is occurring, and how to react to it. However, most children are flexible when they know what to expect and how to react.

12. Do not be too quick to move on to (1) multiple players, and/or (2) unstructured activities, until you build that into your play dates. Once your child seems to be building the cooperative play skills needed to co-regulate with one friend, then build in less structure and less facilitation to see how he does handling the “give and take” interaction, and repairing breakdowns in regulation. Take it slowly to maximize success. I see the greatest failure in moving too quickly into the unstructured, multiple peer, play activities, similar to what you would find on a play ground. This type of unstructured play requires way too much regulation for most of our children to learn from.”

Manitoba Support Groups

Manitoba support groups may offer playgroup programs to families and individuals who have autism spectrum disorder. Some support groups may also facilitate play dates for children who have autism spectrum disorder. Click HERE to view our resource database of Manitoba support groups to get contact information. It is important to contact and look into different support groups as each organization offers their own types programming and support.