Top10Mom Interview: Caterina Hausmann and Polly Neubauer, Porto Playgroup Founders

Once we moved in to Porto in 2016, I looked for activities where Santiago and us as parents would have fun, learn and meet families and new friends. Searching online I found the Porto Playgroup and came along with Santiago and Filipe for a try and we loved it so much that since September we have not missed one Wednesday.

The Porto Playgroup meets every Wednesday at Largo da Maternidade 45, from 10.30 am to 12.30 pm and offers 2 hours full of fun, music, songs, plays and socializing activities for babies, children and parents. You can hear several languages been spoken at the same time, children playing along, painting, running outside during a scavenger hunt or tasting an international dish during snack time.

Read here my fun review on the: Top 10 Reasons to Go to Porto Playgroup Next Wednesday

Every week the P.P founders and volunteers (as myself!) put together a very entertained agenda and welcome families from all over the world to a place we all feel “familiar”, is an oasis created for families to families. Of course, I couldn’t miss sharing with you the Top10Mom interview I realized to 2 of the founders of the group, Polly Neubauer and Caterina Hausmann, so you can know more about it and join us next Wednesday!

 

 

Caterina Hausmann (left) and Polly Neubauer (right), with their daughters Carolina and Cerys

Hello ladies, lets begin!

1.- Porto Playgroup, a place for babies and children. How and when this great idea was born?

Caterina: The playgroup concept is very common in the U.S., where I am from. Usually, they are held at the homes of new parents (maybe a group you met at your local playground or in your building or through acquaintances) or in churches or libraries. In fact, there are so many things to do with babies in New York during the weekday that I was very frustrated that this was not the case here in Porto. I was really hoping to find a way to have my baby socialize with other babies and as a new parent, not working and a recent expat with essentially no friends (at least none that were free during the day), I was even more desperate to meet other parents with kids of a similar age to share experiences, get advice, and to just simply make new friends.

After six months of being alone at home with my first child, Carolina, I finally met a friend with a boy the same age as her and we started meeting-up every Wednesday morning (when she was off from work) at the Public Library in Matosinhos that has a very nice play area for babies as well as for older children. We wanted a place where the babies could be out of their strollers and could interact in some form, and since they weren’t walking yet and it was starting to get colder, a playground or the beach was not ideal. At the same time, I also found the Porto Parents Facebook page started by fellow expat Sarah Doelby. We joined the group and started posting our meet-ups at the Library – same day and time every week, whoever came, came, who didn’t come, didn’t. At times, I was the only one there, but at least it got me showered, dressed and out of the house, especially as winter was starting to roll around. In my pre-motherhood life, I was always very active and social so this was so important for me in order to maintain a positive state of mind. And knowing that it was happening every week at the same time, made it easier to plan for it. As the Facebook page grew, so did our playgroup! Eventually, we outgrew the library and in September of 2016, we started speaking with the people at St. James’ Anglican Church who, in the spirit of the congregations in the UK, had been wanting to open up their space to children and babies but did not have the connections to do so. We were excited to come to an agreement with them and be able to use their wonderful “Well House” space and gardens, allowing us to do the singing, crafting, and playing you are familiar with.

 

2.- You come every week with great thematic ideas and activities. Do you have previous experience working with children or education backgrounds or it all comes from your mommy creative fairy? 

Caterina: No, I do not have an educational background. I am now more involved in the “behind-the-scenes” work – mostly marketing activities. Polly is the amazing MC and our volunteer, Sarah Doelby, has contributed most to the development of the activities.   When I do plan activities, it takes a bit of research but I always loved arts and crafts as a kid (and I still do!) so I find it loads of fun! To be honest, I never thought I would be involved in working with children in this capacity but I find there is such a need for this here in Porto, both among the growing expat community and the Portuguese community, the kids love it and it helps so many parents, including myself, in different ways – this is what really drives me to continue participating and ensuring that it is an engaging and successful venture.

Polly: I come from a family of teachers and used to work in a secondary school in the UK, teaching English and Drama, so I suppose there’s some influence there. To be honest though, I’ve learnt so much since becoming a mum in terms of what works and what doesn’t; my daughter Cerys continues to teach me loads every day. It’s also important to add that the activities and food etc. are very much a team effort, everybody involved in the running of the group contributes ideas for activities, themes and food! It’s great working alongside such a rich variety of backgrounds and nationalities and knowing that my daughter gets to benefit from them, too!

 

3.- Usually on Wednesdays during snack time, the volunteers surprise us with a great dish to share, sometimes healthy cookies, hummus, crostata, yumm, you name it. What about publishing a Porto Playgroup recipe book? 

Caterina: Yes! I always have a lighter breakfast on playgroup days! We are lucky to have parents from various nationalities so snack time can have quite an international flair. Also, when we have a specific holiday to celebrate, we try to include a related snack. This can also be an educational moment for the kids, exposing their palates to different flavours and offering a way to learn about different cultures. A recipe book would be a great idea! We’ll have to start working on it…

Polly: It’s a great idea & I’d happily contribute 😉

4.- What are the positive aspects you have found of bringing your child to the PP?

Caterina: Social skills through interaction with other children is probably the most obvious. It’s also a great place for kids to get their hands dirty with some messy-play – and no clean-up at home! Seriously, though, this stage (0-3 years) is a very formative one for babies and toddlers, a dramatic period of growth that science shows is when the brain is the most active at gathering and storing information and some believe this stage sets the foundation for all developments that follow, so it is particularly important that children in this stage are exposed to as many stimuli and different experiences as possible. Yet this is a time when most children stay at home, only with their parents or carers! And to make it worse, Porto does not offer many choices for children of this age group, unless they are enrolled full-time at a crèche, which are great (my daughter goes to one!), but I understand that this is not the right choice for everyone.   So we hope Porto Playgroup can provide a setting to offer the stimulation your little one craves!

Polly: So many!! I love that we both get to interact with different people while spending time together. When we’re having breakfast in the mornings I often ask her what she wants to do with the day and irrespective of the day of the week, she’ll answer ‘Playgroup!’. It’s rewarding to know that she’s enjoying it, too! Oh and it’s also a chance for her to get stuck in with some ‘messy play’ without me having to let her trash our house!!!!

5.- Tell me, why you think expats and locals should join the PP with their children?

Caterina: I’ve talked about the stimulation it offers for children, it is also a safe environment for learning through play that you can experience with your child (versus just dropping them off in a location). It’s not just about the kids, though! It is very helpful for the parents as well, especially new parents and expats who may need the extra support and network that a place like Porto Playgroup can offer.   And I think our flexible, open structure and attitude takes the pressure away from feeling like you are attending a class and makes you immediately feel included in a community you can relate with.

Polly: Because being a ‘Work at Home Parent’ never meant staying at home! And everything I mentioned in questions 2 & 4 😉

 

6.- Did you ever imagine the PP would grow as much as it has grown?

Caterina: No!  But it shows that there is a need for it in Porto. If we can manage the human resources – we need more volunteers!! – it would be great to try and add another session, or at the very least, I hope we can inspire others to do something similar within their circles.

Polly: In a way, yes! It felt crazy to me that there was no mid-week provision for pre-school children here and I knew that there were lots of parents looking for something similar, to find some opportunity for social interaction for themselves and their children without having to take them to an infantario or crèche each day. I think we still have a lot more growing to do!

 

Caterina and Carolina sharing some cuddles in Porto

7.- As expats living in Porto, what are the best qualities you find in the city?

Caterina: It is definitely a much “easier” city to live in than where I grew-up, New York City. I live near the Ocean, so we love taking walks along the beach, breathing in the salt air and playing in the sand! And the Portuguese adore babies and children so overall, it is a very kid-friendly place. I just wish there was more to do in the city with babies!

Polly: Love, love, love the food and the architecture!

 

8.- What is the biggest challenge you have found during your life in Porto?

Caterina: From a parenting standpoint, access to baby/children’s activities during the weekday and indoor activities.

Polly: Hmm, since becoming a mum, it was definitely my first 6 months with Cerys. It was a wonderful time, but very isolated. Becoming a mum is such a major transition in life, you need a support network that isn’t solely online & it took me those 6 months to find mine.

 

9.- Share with us your top 3 favs in Porto: 

1.- Family friendly restaurants

Polly: Well, in terms of a space where they can have some freedom and you can finish your meal without a total meltdown, I’d say Cascata beach restaurant in Leça da Palmeira. The terrace is more or less at beach level, so falling isn’t an issue and the sea is far enough away for you to relax. The food is standard to decent beach-café fare though, so nothing fancy…

2.- Park for sunny days:

Caterina: we usually go to the playgrounds on Praia Homem de Leme and the beach because they are walking distance (I prefer to walk, that’s the New Yorker in me), but I hear Quinta do Covelo is great and would love to check it out soon! Parque Infantil Basilio Teles, in front of the Câmara de Matosinhos, is also new and nice with one area for children under 2 with baby swings and more and one for kids over 2 years of age. There is also a café nearby – very important!

Polly: Quinta do Covelo is lovely, with a sandpit and equipment for a wide age-range. The park near Igreja da Leça is also good though, as it has some shade over the equipment.

3.- Indoor activity/place for grey days:

Caterina: still have to find this — any suggestions from your readers?

Polly: The Sealife Centre in Matosinhos is great. After the exhibition area, they have a soft play centre next to the café so you can recharge while they burn off some energy. They’ve also recently opened an outdoor play area; I haven’t been yet, but hear it’s pretty good! Their annual pass is great value.

 

Polly and Cerys having fun outdoors!

10.- We are coming to the final question of this fun interview and I would love you to share with us future plans and ideas for the PP?

Caterina: This is a non-profit run solely by volunteers, in order to continue with our same level of offering, we really hope to increase our volunteer base. This will also allow us to open a new session so we have two a week. Otherwise, we are still a new operation and trying to working-out the kinks and some operational issues, so as we approach our first birthday, we hope to keep things running smoothly and hope to continue seeing old faces and new ones!

Polly: For now, we’re still getting ourselves organized – there’s a lot to do! But – and this is just my own musing – I once saw a report on the benefits of children spending time with Alzheimer’s patients and would love to see us get to the point where we could do something along those lines. I dunno – like visit an old people’s home once a month. The notion of community has really diminished these days and I think that interacting with all ages is both important and beneficial to society. I think it would be a great way for us and the children to ‘give back’ somehow…let’s see!
For now, we just want to reach more families and make sure that people know we’re here.

Thank you so much to the Porto Playgroup especially to Polly, Caterina and the rest of the volunteers that make this gathering possible, I look forward to see you all next Wednesday at Igreja Anglicana do Porto! Come and join us!


PlaygroupLogoPorto Playgroup is an informal meeting place where babies and children can socialise and enjoy free-play, scheduled activities, arts and crafts and music, and where new parents can make friends, share ideas and simply get-out-of-the-house, all while spending quality time with your child. Check out their site and FB page for more details

 

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