The emergence of virtual playgroup
The emergence of virtual playgroup
Traditionally, playgroup is a chance for parents, grandparents, nannies and other care-givers to meet up for a couple of hours each week with their under-fives.
It provides opportunities for babies, toddlers and preschoolers to get moving, get messy and get acquainted with toys, materials and equipment they might not have at home. And while littlies are busy interacting, exploring and learning through play, playgroup enables grown-ups to make connections and share experiences in a relaxed environment.
Of course, things have changed with the emergence of COVID-19. The pandemic has affected the way people share time and space, but, fortunately, it is still possible for families to connect digitally and have a playgroup experience together, but apart.
How does virtual playgroup work?
Playgroup at Home is a national playgroup initiative which allows families to share ideas, get support and follow positive daily routines via members-only Facebook communities.
These Playgroup at Home Facebook groups are run by the different playgroup associations around the country (such as Playgroup Victoria) and they connect thousands of families with one another and with playgroup leaders.
Members share ideas for art and craft, imaginative play, physical play, sensory play, literacy and numeracy. There are regular story time sessions, live-streamed shows by children’s entertainers, and parents can get professional advice to help them look after youngsters’ emotional wellbeing, too.
Each Facebook group has rules in place to keep the online experience safe, welcoming and private; and you may be able to join a live, interactive playgroup session via Zoom (Playgroup Victoria offers Zoom sessions for all ages, babies, and children with Autism Spectrum Disorder).
To see what’s on offer from your state or territory playgroup organisation, and to join the digital playgroup revolution, here are some handy links:
What is the ‘Love Stories’ campaign?
Although all ages are feeling the impact of COVID-19, this continuing health crisis is particularly hard on elderly people. Seniors are at a greater risk of developing serious symptoms and succumbing to the disease, and many have endured separations from family and friends during the pandemic.
For this reason, Playgroup Australia, and its state and territory organisations, have joined forces with the Kindness Pandemic social media group to run ‘Love Stories’ – a campaign which is supporting older people and creating meaningful connections between generations via heart-felt messages.
Playgroup Australia says, ‘Members of The Kindness Pandemic Facebook Group [are] encouraged to share their Love Stories using the hashtag #TheKindnessPandemic, to raise awareness around the value of intergenerational connections between young and old. The messages received will be collated and distributed electronically to potential grandfriends – who are encouraged to respond to further foster relationships.
A Love Story is something that parents and children can write together, and we hope all those messages lift the spirits of seniors who’ve been feeling isolated. After all, COVID-19 is catching, but kindness is too.
What’s happening with in-person playgroup sessions?
Depending on current developments, many in-person playgroups are back up and running, with COVID-safe plans in place to help keep everyone healthy.
There’s a COVID-19 Checklist for Queensland playgroups to implement; Playgroup Association NT has clear guidelines for sessions; and to see what COVID-safe precautions are being undertaken in your state or territory, it’s best to check your playgroup association’s website.
What different kinds of playgroup are there?
Playgroups come in all types and sizes and, COVID-permitting, here are some options for families:
There are more than 7,500 community playgroups around Australia and this kind of playgroup brings members of the community together in a friendly and flexible way.
Parents, care-givers and young children usually meet weekly, for up to two hours per session, and these playgroups are held in safe environments, like community halls, centres, parks or even the homes of playgroup families.
Community playgroups are run by volunteers and there’s a small fee payable each week to cover things like hall hire, morning tea and art materials.
Once you’ve attended a couple of sessions, you’ll need to become a member of your state or territory playgroup organisation. This gives you access to playgroup, insurance while you’re there, resources (e.g. handbooks and activities) and member benefits (e.g. discounts and comps). Membership is about $40 for the year and sometimes it’s free (e.g. if you’re in NSW or have a child under one in Qld).
Community playgroups are open to everyone, and if they suit your family, there are playgroups for a particular language and cultural groups, for grandparents, for families living in remote areas and for specific ages, such as babies.
Ageless Play playgroups
When they’re operating, Ageless Play intergenerational playgroups take a similar approach to community playgroups, with children learning through play. However, instead of being held in halls, parks and so on, these playgroups partner with aged care services, retirement villages and seniors’ groups to bring young and old together for mutual benefit.
Ageless Play playgroups are a great way for under-fives to form bonds with older people, especially if their own grandparents don’t live nearby, and genuine intergenerational connections can be made. As one mum says, ‘It’s pretty amazing that a four-year-old can have a best friend who's 95-years-old!'
These sessions help to reduce feelings of isolation and boredom for older people, giving them something to look forward to each week, and they combat ageism in local communities.
There's the opportunity for parents to learn from the older people as well, and if you're interested in joining an Ageless Play session when they start up again, this link will help. In the meantime, you can connect with Ageless Play on social media.
PlayConnect playgroups are designed for zero to six-year-olds who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or autism-like characteristics (affecting their communication, behaviour, or social skills).
Children don't need to have been formally diagnosed to attend, and PlayConnect playgroups are government-funded, so they're free to attend.
These playgroups usually meet weekly for two hours, and they offer flexible, play-based learning opportunities tailored to the needs of children with ASD (e.g. by offering structured routines, small groups, visual aids, and interest-based activities).
A PlayConnect Facilitator runs each playgroup, but families have a say in how the sessions are run, and these playgroups are a valuable way to meet others who are caring for children with ASD, share knowledge and experiences, and connect with early intervention programs.
To find a PlayConnect playgroup, call your state or territory playgroup association on 1800 171 882 (free call).
‘PALS' stands for ‘Play and Learn Supported’ and, thanks to funding from the National Disability Insurance Scheme, PALS playgroups are starting in early 2021 and being developed over the next three years.
These mixed-ability playgroups will welcome families of children aged zero to five, both with and without disabilities; and will run just like community playgroups, but in partnership with existing community groups.
A facilitator will work with families to create regular community activities for children (and their parents and carers), with a focus on play-based activities that support youngsters’ cultural identity, creative arts, sport and recreation.
PALS playgroups will encourage families to connect, build awareness and be supported by targeted community programs.
To learn more about PALS playgroups, click here, and on a related note, the Play Together Project supports community playgroups to be more inclusive for children and families, and especially those with additional needs.
Other playgroup programs
Different states and territories have different things happening (e.g. ACT Playgroups offers a drop-in Paint & Play playgroup), so you’re encouraged to jump onto your playgroup association’s website and social media and explore what’s on offer.
The benefits of playgroup are many, so whether you're tuning in digitally or face-to-face, these sessions are definitely worth exploring.
What is MyTime?
Although MyTime isn’t a type of playgroup, these peer support groups for parents and carers of children with a disability, developmental delay, or chronic medical condition are also important to mention.
There are MyTime groups all around Australia, and these groups give parents and carers the opportunity to build social networks and share experiences with other parents and carers of disabled children (aged zero to 18).
Trained facilitators lead the MyTime groups and help parents and carers to access information and services; and there are 'play helpers' on hand to engage pre-school aged children.
This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Thursday, 26 November 2020
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