Principles for high quality playgroups: Examples from research and practice

CFCA Practitioner Resource – September 2017

Playgroups are culturally safe

Be adaptive to the needs of different cultural groups. Honour their cultural heritage and the needs of their children to be respected and supported in their culture. Playgroups can be culturally specific: enabling culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) and Indigenous families to connect through play. 

Playgroup is a culturally safe place for families to come together for the purposes of play and social connection and includes both culturally specific and non-culturally specific groups of families. Cultural safety has been defined as “An environment that is safe for people: where there is no assault, challenge or denial of their identity, of who they are and what they need. It is about shared respect, shared meaning, shared knowledge and experience, of learning, living and working together with dignity and truly listening.” (Williams, 1999, p. 213)

  • being aware of one's own world view;
  • developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences;
  • gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views; and,
  • developing skills for communication and interaction across cultures (DEEWR, 2009, p. 16).

High-quality playgroups, both community and supported, are culturally safe for participants and follow culturally competent practices.

Some playgroup participants might prefer to attend a culturally specific community or supported playgroup. Supported playgroups specifically targeting culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) migrant or refugee groups can provide a culturally safe environment for carers, and may assist in the development of social supports, children's social and physical development and links to other services that CALD and refugee carers might otherwise not have (Commerford & Robinson, 2016). Research suggests that supported playgroups provide a strong, key source of social support for refugee and migrant carers, facilitating the development of informal networks of support and acting as a protective factor to help enhance positive outcomes for carers (Commerford & Robinson, 2016). Supported playgroups also promote refugee and migrant children's social and physical development by providing important opportunities for socialisation and helping to improve children's readiness to transition to school (Commerford & Robinson, 2016).

The environment of a culturally specific playgroup can potentially make carers feel more comfortable in sharing with the group (DEECD, 2011). However, if this is not possible, encourage interaction between different cultural groups through the sharing of stories that highlight the commonalities of their experiences caring for children as well as the differences (DEECD, 2011). Supported playgroups can further do this through the facilitator role, by modelling acceptance and taking interest in all families (DEECD, 2011).

Supported playgroups for Indigenous families are adaptive and flexible, based on the needs of Indigenous families in each community. Research demonstrates that effective early childhood education and care programs that engage and sustain Indigenous family participation are more likely to be non-licensed (such as playgroups and parent-child education), physically and culturally accessible programs that focus on the whole family and have a flexible, relationship-focused approach (Leske, Sarmardin, Woods, & Thorpe, 2015). High-quality playgroups for Indigenous families need to be sustainable and run over a long period of time to build trust and engagement with the local community. These playgroups also engage with local people who can provide advice on culturally appropriate learning experiences. This can assist the community to feel a sense of ownership of the playgroup.

Specific strategies used in supported playgroups for CALD people and Indigenous families include: using bilingual facilitators who are from the same background as participants (where possible); role modelling; and including food-based routines or rituals. Supported playgroups can train carers who have attended the playgroup themselves to become facilitators or paid assistants, and employ local, well-known and respected community members. With regular professional development opportunities and debriefing sessions, these facilitators can draw on their own cultural insights and experiences to both create a welcoming and inclusive environment and be a trusted source of information for participants (Warr, Mann, & Forbes, 2013). Indigenous supported playgroups can also consult with local well-connected community members to organise introductions to local Indigenous families, and invite local elders to attend the playgroup. Supported playgroups can also appropriately reflect cultural norms by, for example, encouraging families to prepare, share and enjoy the food of their cultural heritage together.