Chicago Italian Playgroup brings Italian-speaking families together
Started in 2009, the Chicago Italian Playgroup is like any other group of parents who get together... except they do it all while speaking Italian.
The members of Chicago Italian Playgroup are just like any other group of parents who get together to socialize with their children: They hold playdates, visit local museums and beaches and meet up for mom’s nights out and family dinners. The only difference? Its members are more likely to welcome each other with “Ciao!” than “Hello,” because the group is exclusively made up of Italian-speaking families.
The CIP was founded in 2009 by Allison Pugina, a Lincoln Park mom to Vittoria, 4, and Emily, 1, and Daniela Miller, a Brookfield mom to three-year-old Sofia. Miller had joined an Italian language group the year before, after moving to Chicago and hoping to meet other Italian families in the area. There, she met Pugina—whose husband is Italian—as well as several other Italian-speaking mothers. When the moms decided to look for more Italian families, the CIP was formed.
Since then, the group has grown from five families to more than 75 and meets about twice a week. It introduces Italian language and culture to even the youngest children. Lincoln Park mom Cristina Colasanto Haynes has been a member since February and says it has exposed her 16-month-old daughter, Cecilia, to her roots and culture. “She has so many cousins in Italy, and we want her to be able to communicate with them when we visit,” Colasanto says.
High-school teacher Tiziana Lambert and her 18-month-old daughter, Olivia, have attended the playgroup since June. “I enjoy interacting with the moms and hearing the little ones speak Italian,” she says. “And the group provides my daughter with positive social interactions with children of all ages.”
Social interactions are second only to the cultural and language aspects of the playgroup; Pugina found that mainstream playgroups have “events that seem geared toward meeting acquaintances and keeping kids entertained rather than building community.”
Haynes agrees that there are differences between the Italian playgroup and more mainstream groups, though she does participate in both. “In the mainstream [groups], the emphasis is on the children and their development as well as bonding amongst moms, but I find that sharing cultural similarities and a second language creates a special bond.”
The families get together for regular family pizza nights, and last year some of the group’s dads organized a getaway for their wives to a spa in Lake Geneva. Miller says that, for many members and their kids, the group has become an integral part of their lives. Before she goes to bed at night, her daughter, Sofia, “says good night to all of her playgroup friends…‘Good night, Vittoria; good night, Matilde; good night, Iain; good night, Sammy,’ ” Miller says. “I consider some of the members of this group as my family.”
For membership information, visit meetup.com/chicago-italian-playgroup. The Chicago Italian Playgroup meets Friday 7 for a museum outing and Wednesday 12 for a playgroup in a member’s home.