Supported playgroups for parents and children
Playgroups are local, community-based groups that bring together preschool-aged1 children and their parents or carers for the purpose of play and social activities (Dadich & Spooner, 2008). The delivery of playgroups throughout Australia has been an integral part of the landscape of early childhood programs for many decades; however, despite the prominence of playgroups in the lives of Australian families, there have been limited efforts to establish through formal evaluation processes whether they contribute to outcomes for children, parents and/or communities. While there is generally a lack of evaluation studies to support the effectiveness of playgroups, vastly different funding and operational models also contribute to a highly diverse group of programs being labelled as playgroups. This creates difficulties in establishing an understanding of "what works".
This paper begins by examining different types of playgroups, their funding models and related guidelines. The paper then focuses on the available evidence that relates to the similarities and differences between playgroups, and the evidence for their effectiveness in promoting positive outcomes for children and families and working as a soft entry point for other services.
The paper concludes by addressing issues related to the evaluation of supported playgroups.
1 Preschool-aged children is used in this paper to refer to children who are not yet of school age.