Principles for high quality playgroups: Examples from research and practice

CFCA Practitioner Resource – September 2017

Playgroups are flexible

Be flexible, responsive and adaptive to the needs of carers and children and the local community. Be dynamic and ready to change as the needs of families change. Be adaptive and able to focus on the specific needs of the group.

The playgroup model is flexible, enabling the structure, format and activities to vary based on the needs of carers, children and the local community. Research and evaluation evidence of all playgroup models highlight flexibility as an important factor in running high-quality playgroups (ARTD, 2008; Williams, Berthelsen, Nicholson, & Viviani, 2015).

The community playgroup model has a flexible approach that enables the playgroup to be adaptive and respond to the needs of families attending them (ARTD, 2008). Community playgroup can adapt by: being diverse and able to cater for groups of families with similar shared experiences (e.g., grandparents, fathers, LGBTIQ carers, groups from CALD backgrounds, families with babies or toddlers; Playgroup WA, 2016). In rural/remote areas, playgroups can flexibly cater for smaller groups of families with varied life experiences.

Similarly, supported playgroups being run across Australia have generally had a flexible delivery model without prescribed content, curriculum or a specified routine (Williams et al., 2015), and can operate in varying formats (e.g., mobile playgroup, outdoor playgroup in a park, playgroup set in caravan parks) for varying groups of families (e.g., families experiencing disadvantage or social isolation, or families with shared experiences of alcohol and other drug misuse, or housing instability). This allows each individual playgroup to be flexible and responsive, tailoring the group to the needs of its members.

Through being responsive to the needs of carers and children attending playgroup, and tailoring the structure, activities, content or curriculum to meet these needs, playgroups prioritise the wellbeing of carers and children. High-quality playgroups do this in a number of ways. For example, in a supported playgroup for newly arrived migrants from CALD backgrounds, the facilitator might identify a lack of knowledge among carers of available universal services and programs, and respond to this need by introducing families to, e.g., the local health, education and community services in the area (McDonald, Turner & Gray, 2014). Or facilitators of supported playgroups might notice carers discussing concerns about their children's dental health, for example, and organise a local dental health provider to attend a playgroup session. In this way, the supported playgroup facilitator is tailoring the playgroup session to respond to the needs of the families.

High-quality playgroups are dynamic and ready to change as the needs of families in the group change. In both community and supported playgroup models, this may mean adjusting activities as the children grow to suit their changing developmental needs, while in supported playgroup this may mean encouraging carers to increase their involvement in the running of the playgroup, as their confidence develops.