What they don’t tell you about playgroup
Parents, carers and their children gathered all over Australia last week, to celebrate National Playgroup Week.
In Brisbane, families with children from birth to five years connected at the World’s Biggest Playgroup Day at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre for a free concert by Play School personality Jay Laga’aia.
If you’ve ever wondered what you can expect from a local playgroup, read on as four Brisbane mums share their experiences…
According to Playgroup Australia Chair, Pam Cahir, playgroups began to flourish in the 1970s, and today, there are over 8000 community playgroups that meet each week, with more than 200,000 parents who participate.
Connecting with other families
“Parents opt into a community playgroup for a range of reasons,” Pam explains. It might be the opportunity for their child to play with other children, or support for their parenting. It might also be simply the desire to be and talk with other parents.”
Brisbane mum of three, Lisa, agrees. “The best part of going along to playgroup is getting the opportunity to speak to other adults and compare notes about what they do with their kids for recreation, in times of sickness, and sharing ideas for the best toys, outings, recipes, and schools,” she says.
Being part of a community
Pam, from Playgroup Australia, says another benefit of participating in playgroup is the sense of community it promotes for parents, carers and their children.
“The sense of community that results from participation in a playgroup promotes feelings of belonging and connectedness,” Pam explains. “Such feelings have been shown to have a positive effect on children’s and families’ mental health.
“Research indicates that a child’s sense of belonging is a key protective factor that promotes wellbeing, as well as learning outcomes. Children who have a sense of belonging and connectedness have been found to feel happier and safer, and are more able to cope with the ups and downs of life than children whose sense of belonging and connectedness is low. The same is the case for adults.”
Practical benefits for children
In addition to these philosophical reasons for being involved in playgroup, Brisbane mother of three, Rebekah, says there’s some practical benefits for children too.
“Playgroup gives children an opportunity for social interaction, which helps them develop their social skills in preparation for school,” she says. “It also exposes them to positive and negative behaviours, and even exposes them to germs which builds their immune system.”
Finding a playgroup that’s right for your family
Playgroups come in all shapes and sizes. Many playgroups are run by churches or community organisations and they often incorporate craft, music, morning tea and other activities into their programs. There are playgroups especially for fathers, ethnic groups, children with disabilities and even for grandparents.
The downside to community playgroups is that they can be large, and it is easy to get lost in the crowd and not connect with anyone. Brisbane mother of two, Michelle, says it doesn’t have to be this way – playgroup can be as simple as a small group of mums meeting regularly in each other’s houses.
“Playgroups don’t have to be large groups of random mum and kids where you just smile at the odd person and if you’re lucky have a bit of small talk,” she says. “They can be more intimate gatherings where you can really connect with a few good friends.”
Michelle says that in addition to forging and nurturing friendships with other mums, playgroup fills a gap in what can be a long week of caring for little ones.
“Playgroup gives us something to look forward to each week, and a morning where I don’t have to decide what I’m going to do to entertain the kids,” she says.
“It’s a low cost and a low-stress activity that gets us out of the house, and it’s an excuse to venture out to places I might not otherwise on my own with the kids.”
What they don’t tell you about playgroup
Not everyone has a positive playgroup experience, and you may need to try more than one to find a group that’s a good fit for you and your child. Sometimes, parents can be competitive, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing your child’s milestones with others in the group. Remember, every child is different, and there is a wide range of what’s “normal” when it comes to babies and children. Try to be sensitive to others who may be finding parenting difficult, and be a good listener.
It is also possible to have the opposite experience, and you just may meet a group of supportive mothers that will become friends for life.
Brisbane mother of two, Anne, says that seeing other families at playgroup going through the same things as her family gave her the reassurance she needed as a parent.
“The best thing I learnt at playgroup is that everything is normal!” she says. “If you are experiencing something new, be it wonderful or difficult, chances are someone else is as well. Even if we couldn’t fix it, it was comforting to know that we weren’t alone.”
To find a playgroup near you, visit Playgroup Queensland.