Principles for high quality playgroups: Examples from research and practice

CFCA Practitioner Resource – September 2017

Playgroups are about connection

Provide opportunities for carers to connect with other parents/carers, for families to connect with their local community, and for carers and children to connect with each other through play. Playgroups are a platform for social and community connectedness through the development of informal social networks and by linking families to local community resources and services.

The group experience of playgroup creates many opportunities for connection, including:

  • between carers;
  • between carers and their child/children;
  • between children; and
  • between families and their local community.

Research demonstrates that one of the main reasons carers join playgroups is to develop a sense of belonging (Harman, Guilfoyle & O'Connor, 2014). Building supportive social networks, developing friendships and finding emotional and social support are some of the potential benefits associated with attending community playgroups (Hancock et al., 2015; Gibson, Harman & Guilfoyle, 2015; Harman et al., 2014). Research identifies that social support can improve health outcomes by fulfilling basic social needs, enhancing social integration, mediating the effects of stress on health and providing some protection from the harm that may occur from acute stressful events (Hanna et al., 2002). Making sure that carers have opportunities to socialise and chat with one another in a relaxed and informal way, perhaps over a complimentary cup of tea or coffee while their children are playing, can assist the development of social and peer support.

There is potential, however, for vulnerable and socially disadvantaged carers to feel isolated or left out of their local community playgroup. They may prefer to socialise at a playgroup with other carers similar to them (Gibson, Harmon, & Guilfoyle, 2015; Strange, Fisher, Howat & Wood, 2014). Supported playgroups can be an option for those families who may not be able to effectively engage in community playgroups, and research and evaluation studies show similar social benefits for families attending supported playgroups (Commerford & Robinson, 2016).

Playgroups create opportunities for carers to connect with their child. Effective playgroups set up activities that are designed to encourage carers to participate and interact with their child during playgroup. Encouraging carers to join in during song time or to read to their child in the "book corner", for instance, may further develop carers' skills and confidence in these areas, and connection with their child. Careful consideration of where furniture is placed may assist with this - avoiding placing chairs for adults around the perimeter of the room, for instance, may encourage adults to participate and engage with their children (DEECD, 2011).

Playgroups can enhance the community connectedness experienced by families (Strange et al., 2014). Participating in a local playgroup creates more opportunities for local informal interactions between families, such as at the park or shopping hub, and attending groups held in their local area increases carers' sense of connectedness to their local area (Strange et al., 2014). The lack of availability of local community groups can be an influencing factor, however. In newer residential areas, for instance, community infrastructure and services may take time to develop (Strange et al., 2014), and in rural and remote areas families may not have access to a group near to their home or to one that has other members who they feel they can bond with. High-quality playgroups in rural and remote areas, therefore, need to be prepared to cater to a diverse group of families and to be mindful of being welcoming to all new families. In a community playgroup, this may mean ensuring existing members make new families feel welcome by including them in conversation or, in instances where there are conflicts between families, contacting the relevant state and territory playgroup association to provide conflict resolution assistance.