The emergence of virtual playgroup

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  Published on Wednesday, 13 May 2020

The emergence of virtual playgroup

Library Home  >  General Information on Child CareParenting & Family Life
  Published on Wednesday, 13 May 2020

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. Social distancing and home isolation have 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 the name of several members-only Facebook groups that allow families to share ideas, get support and follow positive daily routines.

Created by organisations like Playgroup SA and Playgroup Victoria, each Playgroup at Home group allows thousands of families to connect 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 group has rules in place to keep the online experience safe, welcoming and private, and, all in all, virtual playgroup is proving popular with under fives and their families.

To see what’s on offer from your state or territory playgroup organisation, and 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 health crisis is particularly hard on elderly people. Seniors are at a greater risk of developing serious symptoms and succumbing to the disease, and home isolation can be lonely and worrying for older people who are separated from family and friends.

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 are feeling isolated at home. After all, COVID-19 is catching, but kindness is too.

What other types of playgroups are there?

Face-to-face playgroups have been affected by COVID-19, but you can take comfort in the fact that playgroup will continue to offer enriching, interactive experiences once this pandemic is over. 

If you’re not familiar with the different types of playgroup available to families, then here are some options to consider going forward:

Community playgroups

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).

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, they give 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.

PlayConnect playgroups

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 when the time is right, call your state or territory playgroup association on 1800 171 882 (free call).

MyTime playgroups

MyTime playgroups are for children with a disability, developmental delay, or chronic medical condition. There are groups all around Australia, and sessions are led by trained facilitators.

MyTime groups are for children under the age of 18 who need a higher level of care than other kids. There are 'play helpers' on hand to engage preschool aged children in play. And as with PlayConnect, MyTime sessions help families build social networks, share experiences, and get access to information and services.

State and territory-specific programs

The above playgroups are national programs, but there are state or territory-specific programs too, such as ACT Playgroups drop-in Paint & Play playgroup.

You'll find helpful information and great ideas on your playgroup organisation's website and social media, and whether you're tuning in digitally this week or face-to-face later in the year, the benefits of playgroup are many.

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Monday, 11 May 2020

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