Playgroups: A guide to their planning, delivery and management

Content type
Practice guide

July 2017

This resource is intended to assist in the development of high-quality and consistent playgroups, and further build and strengthen the evidence base for the effectiveness of playgroups in meeting outcomes for families and children.

The resources are designed to provide flexible support and guidance to policy makers and those planning, delivering and coordinating playgroups. They provide an evidence-informed framework with which playgroups can be developed based on the local needs of the families attending and the communities they live in, and further allow a consistent evaluation approach where appropriate.  The resources are voluntary, not affiliated with any funding process and are not intended to replace existing frameworks or guiding documents, but rather to complement them.

The Playgroup Principles

Core characteristics of high quality playgroups

The nine key principles underpinning high quality effective playgroups are listed below. Each principle outlines a core characteristic of playgroup, and is followed by action-oriented statements to inspire thought and discussion of how the principles can be implemented. 

  • Playgroups are about play
    Offer high-quality, fun, structured and unstructured play experiences for children and parents/carers and provide opportunities for play-based learning to support positive child development.
  • Playgroups are child-focused, child-inclusive and developmentally appropriate 
    Understand and acknowledge children’s needs and individual perspectives and experiences. Support child development by providing developmentally appropriate activities in a supportive, collaborative environment, where carers participate and further develop skills in supporting children’s growth.
  • 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 safe and welcoming 
    Ensure that the playgroup provides a culturally, physically and emotionally safe and inclusive space that is child safe. Ensure that it is warm and welcoming, accessible, and located in regular and consistent venues that are easily accessed.
  • 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 are flexible 
    Be flexible, responsive and adaptive to the needs of parents/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.
  • Playgroups are both strengths-based and strengthening 
    Recognise and value the strengths, skills and knowledge of parents/carers while also offering a space to build on their strengths and capacities. Acknowledge the role of the parent/carer as the child’s first teacher. Build on parents/carers’ strengths and create opportunities for parents/carers to contribute. Be collaborative and co-design the group with families.
  • Playgroups have organisational level support and governance 
    Support individual playgroups with an adequately resourced organisation that provides oversight and assistance.
  • Playgroups draw on skilled facilitators to engage families and link to local services1 
    Utilise volunteer co-ordinators (for community playgroups) or paid staff with the qualifications, skills and/or qualities to build relationships and facilitate engagement between the families in the group. Playgroups are best supported by a facilitator (for supported playgroups) with local knowledge who can foster relationships and connectedness.

1 This principle applies to supported playgroups specifically, however, the engagement strategies outlined may be applicable to other playgroup models.

Supported and community playgroup program logics

Two program logics have been developed, one for community playgroups and one for supported playgroups. Although there is commonality in many of the core inputs, activities and outcomes, the two program logics have been developed to reflect the different inputs and the slightly different goals of each.

A program logic is a living document. These program logics have been designed to be broad so that they demonstrate the logic behind playgroups generally, and are intended to be adapted by playgroup providers to reflect the specific aims and objectives of individual playgroups (e.g., if a playgroup has a specific objective to improve school readiness, this should be included in the outcomes, and the activities that contribute to this should also be added). Once developed, a program logic should be monitored and reassessed as part of your playgroup operations. You may need to update or adapt the program logic to reflect changes in your playgroup, or make changes to the program as you identify a missing step in the program logic.

These program logics are based on the available research evidence and input from sector professionals (e.g., playgroup practitioners, funders, researchers) of what core outcomes are likely to achieved if a good quality playgroup is delivered as intended. It is important to note that the long-term outcomes cannot be achieved through playgroups alone. Although playgroups can contribute to these outcomes, “external factors” will also contribute to or detract from the likelihood that these outcomes are achieved.

Whether or not attendance at a playgroup results in the short- and medium-term outcomes listed in the program logic is also dependent on whether the playgroup is delivered as intended. This means that in order to achieve those outcomes, a playgroup must demonstrate that all the inputs and activities in the playgroups are in place, and that the “assumptions” listed in the program logic are met (e.g., carers and children will attend playgroup regularly for an extended period of time).

A blank program logic has been provided so that you can create your own based on your particular target group, their needs and the intended outcomes of the playgroup.

Supported playgroup program logics (36KB PDF)

Community playgroup program logics (35KB PDF)

Blank playgroup logic template (30KB PDF)

Playgroups outcomes measurement matrix

This resource has been designed to assist playgroups and playgroup providers with choosing valid and reliable tools to measure core playgroup outcomes. It is hoped that by providing a number of outcomes measurement tools that can be used consistently across jurisdictions and organisations when evaluating different types of playgroups, the evidence base for the effectiveness of playgroups can be built upon and strengthened.

The list of tools, although not exhaustive, includes those that are commonly used within the service sector and are largely freely available.  These tools are designed to be used in conjunction with other sources of data regarding your playgroup (e.g., your evaluation may also include process measures, such as data on numbers of families attending, regularity of attendance and length of time in the playgroup in order to evaluate if these elements play a role in the effectiveness of your playgroup).

How to use the matrix

This matrix sets out several core child, parent and social/community outcomes that may occur as a result of a good quality playgroup, along with a selection of corresponding measurement instruments. You can access information about how to administer and source your preferred instrument via the links below the tables. Definitions of the specific outcomes are also provided.

The matrix can be used by playgroups and playgroup providers to find outcomes measures that are both valid and appropriate for the context of the program, i.e. target group, program type, method of delivery etc. For instance, if you want to know whether your program has resulted in increased social support the matrix provides you with five instrument options (ISEL, PRQ85, SSQ6, SPS and ISSB) to explore further.

Please note that the matrix doesn’t provide an exhaustive list of available tools and you will need to thoroughly assess any particular tool prior to using it and choose the tool that is right for the participants of your playgroup.  Explanatory details about the instruments are provided in the matrix and you can always contact the developer of the tool to discuss your requirements.

For further guidance on evaluating your playgroup please see the Playgroup evaluation guide.

Child-related outcomes

Child outcomeExamples of 
child outcomes
TRAK ($)
Improved early childhood development3,4xx   x  xx 
Improved social and emotional wellbeing3,4    x x xx  
Increased social skills3,4    x x x   x
Improved peer relationships3,4    x  x   x
Reduced behavioural problems3,4      x   
Improved child temperament3,4   x      

Parent-related outcomes

Parent outcomeExamples of  
parent outcomes*
Improved family functioning1,2,3,4 xxxx           
Improved parent- 
child relationship
1,2,3,4 x    x          
Increased parental confidence and capacity1,2x     x   x       
Improved personal wellbeing1,5,4,6       x x        
Increased parental involvement in education1,2           x     
Improved social support5        x  x x x x x
Improved responses to child's behaviour2      x    x      


Community outcomes 

Child outcomeExamples of  
Increased social participation 5x 
Improved community connectedness 5  x


$ This tool must be purchased

* There is a matrix available to translate this into SCORE 

Short-term outcomes

  1. Carers increase skills, knowledge and confidence to provide developmentally appropriate play activities for their child
  2. Carers increase knowledge of child development (supported)
  3. Children have increased access to developmentally appropriate play activities
  4. Children increase social interaction and developmentally appropriate play with carers, other children and adults
  5. Carers increase their social and support networks
  6. Carers increase knowledge of support services and community activities (Supported)/ carers increase knowledge of informal social and support networks (Community)