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Playgroup Australia


Welcome to our Playgroup page, where we blog about the Playgroups we visit during our journey 

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Gulliver Multicultural Playgroup

Townsville is probably the biggest city we have visited outside of the state capitals.  Like many Australian cities, it enjoys a wide array of backgrounds and cultures, many residents having been born overseas.  It was with this in mind that we decided to visit our first Multicultural Playgroup here.

Gulliver Multicultural Playgroup runs on a Monday morning from 9:30-11:30 am.  It is currently held at the Holy Family Centre.  However, next year (in 2012) will see both the venue and day change.  The new venue already hosts other Playgroups happily four days per week, and is much more reasonably priced.  Cost savings will be passed on to families via a reduction in fees.  For details contact the Townsville Region Office, or check the Playgroup Queensland website.Townsville Multicultural Playgroup train

Trish Chadwick, the Development Officer for the Townsville Region, visited this session to speak with me about their Multicultural Playgroup.  The group was originally a supported group, which was set up when they received 12 months funding.  Unfortunately, the funding period has ended, but the mums and carers have continued to meet and organise the group for themselves.  In fact, numbers are increasing, and there are more than ten families and carers regularly attending, including a Family Day Care provider with all her charges.

So what cultural mix is making up this group? Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Papua New Guinean, English, Kiwi and Australian.  Everyone is welcome, it is not essential to have been born overseas.  Stories and songs at the end of the session are all in English, even though this may not be the first language for the family.

At the moment, the group has a roster, where mums take turns in organising art and craft activities.  This week, one of the mums turned up with a container of homemade biscuits for the children to ice and decorate.  They also made rocket ships with old toilet rolls, tape and aluminum foil.  Together with a play dough station with homemade dough, the kids were both really happy for the entire session. 

Townsville Multicultural Playgroup cookiesPlay DoughDuring the session, I spoke with Trish about the challenges Playgroups in the region have had this year, with cyclone Yasi destroying several venues, toys and equipment.  I found it rather inspiring to hear that a week after the cyclone, the Cardwell Group still met up near the beach armed with some containers for a session of sand play.  The beach had literally ended up all over town, so they used the only resource they had.  The town still doesn’t have a playground, but the group is getting by with what they can through donations and fundraising.

Townsville itself has a wide variety of Playgroups available.  There is a Playgroup Connect, which is a supported group for autism spectrum children.  They also have a ‘My Time’ session, which is a supported group for Grandparents who are a child’s main career.  Carers attend the group, and they are free to have some ‘time out’ away from the kids, to speak with others in the same situation, or to get useful information from guest speakers such as ‘their rights as a primary carer with Centerlink’. 

Finding affordable and suitable venues for Playgroups is one of the biggest issues facing groups in Townsville.  At the moment, new subdivision is spreading the city to the north, but little (if anything) has been planned in supporting infrastructure and community services.  Trish is trying to push this issue onto the council’s agenda. Wouldn’t it be great if all new subdivisions could include things like community halls and attached playgrounds, with shade, fencing and service facilities? I’m sure this lack of council foresight is a common problem within a lot of growing communities.

Anyway, as always, we had a great time.  Thanks to Trish, and the group for your welcoming and enthusiasm.  It was a fabulous morning.

Port Douglas Neighbourhood Centre Playgroup

Our first playgroup in Queensland was in the lovely, tropical Port Douglas. I was welcomed by Deb, a family support worker at the Neighbourhood Centre where the session is held.  She facilitates Playgroup as part of the Family Support Program for both new arrivals and long term locals in the area.

Port Douglas has an interesting mix of families attending Playgroup.  Being a rather unique tourist town, they often get families (both Australian and from overseas) visiting the area for months at a time.  Playgroup welcomes these families, as well as the more permanent residents, and the occasional holidaymakers dropping in (like us).

Port Douglas Playgroup WaterplayUnlike most Playgroups we have visited, there are several dads regularly attending, as well as grandparents, nannies and mums.  Approximately 25 families regularly attend, depending on the weather.  There is a Tuesday morning group for older children and a Wednesday morning group for toddlers.

Deb and a Community Parent volunteer (for the Tuesday group) usually set up the sessions so everything is ready when the families arrive.  Today, we had a painting station, some water play, sand play in the sandpit, and the usual array of toys, books and games.  Being quite hot and humid this time of the year, Rhys just loved the water play.  Of course he also loved the sand pit, which can only mean one thing – mess. 

I’ve noticed Coby is getting more and more into books.  She is content to sit by herself and ‘read’.  I guess this is another sign she is well and truly ready for school, which is fortunate as she starts in 3 months time.

It’s pretty much free play for most of the session, until the parents help pack up.  One of the regular dads is famed for leading story time at the end of the session, and is fabulous at engaging the kids and encouraging them to participate.

Port Douglas Playgroup ReadingDeb and the volunteer/s join in playing with the kids, as well as chatting to parents and carers, making a point of welcoming new members to the group and introducing them to the range of services on offer at the centre.

Throughout the morning, I had the opportunity to chat with Deb about Playgroup, and all the family services provided at the Neighbourhood Centre.  There is a New Parents group on Thursdays, an opportunity for new parents to develop a support network and make new friends while chatting about their experiences with their babies.  As the babies become toddlers, they are encouraged to move onto the Wednesday Playgroup Session.

Deb and Jo (another staff member at the Centre) also run a 5P Parenting Program on Wednesday afternoons.  It is a six week program aimed to help parents become more confident with their parenting skills.  5P stands for Participatory Program Promoting Pleasurable Parenting.

The Family Support Program also includes free family counselling (on Wednesday’s), coffee mornings, baby health clinic, internet access and information about all things to do with children in the local area.  There is a range of other services too numerous to mention.

Speaking with Deb, I realised how fortunate Port Douglas is to have been granted the funding for such a complete service to help both families and the wider community.  It would be wonderful if more communities had access to services like these.

National Children’s Week – Combined Playgroup

While visiting Port Douglas Playgroup, we were very kindly invited to the local combined Playgroup activity for this year’s National Children’s Week.  The areas Playgroups get their budgets, resources and manpower together a couple of times a year to do bigger playgroup events together.

Children’s Week Playgroup was held at Mossman Showground, where the regular Mossman Playgroup is held every Wednesday.  I spoke with Alex, local mum and facilitator of the Mossman group for almost two years.  She and Deb were part of the team that organised the morning, and I have to say they did a fabulous job. 

Mossman PG Family Fun Day Baloon Animals

Mossman PG Family Fun Day Face PaintedThroughout the morning there was a clown, face painting, biscuit decorating, bouncy castle, puppet show, a snake to hold, bears handing out icy poles and party bags, play dough and balloon animals.  This was on top of all the toys and a massive ball pit.  My kids were in heaven, and had a very busy two hours running around trying everything.  The puppet show was certainly a hit, as were the balloon animals.  The mums baked up a storm, so many beautiful cakes to choose from for morning tea.  There was a great turnout from all the local Playgroups, you couldn’t move for children. 

Alex mentioned how hard their group works at fundraising.  They are involved in programs such as recycling fans and cans, delivering yellow pages and many other resourceful ideas to raise much needed funds.  Monies are channelled into days like today, and minimising general Playgroup costs for families regularly attending.  There is a great community spirit in the group, where everyone tries to pitch in and help.

Mossman PG Family Fun DayMossman PG Family Fun Day Story timeThey have had a few other days like this in the past, with particular themes such as messy play day, with lots of slime and goo.   A water play themed morning also works well in this kind of heat, where kids are allowed to go crazy under sprinklers and on makeshift plastic waterslides.  I guess the theme for this Children’s Week was to just have a great morning with all the entertainment on offer.

I also met Emma, a regional coordinator for Far North Queensland.  She was visiting for the morning from her office in Cairns to help out.  Emma was at the National Conference last week in Melbourne, so we had a great chat about that, and the work she does for the local region.  Hanging out with the kids is a welcome break from the office, and the day-to-day issues she has to sort out.

National Playgroup Conference

2011 was the second, biennial conference from Playgroup Australia.  The theme for this year’s conference was ‘All Together Now’, as it highlights the positive impact play can have a child’s development.

The conference was essentially a forum for people that work with or for children (teachers, early childhood educators, children services providers playgroup employees, policymakers etc to get together to hear and discuss new ideas and research surrounding child development.

Unfortunately, my late arrival meant I could only attend the final session of Day one.  Tim Gill gave a talk about ‘Growing up in a risk adverse society’.  He asks the tough questions, such as is society becoming so adverse to risk, that we are actually damaging our children’s development and ability to play and develop freely?

As Mike and I have been lucky enough to spend so much quality time with our children this year, we can certainly champion the ideology of Playgroup.  Playtime, new experiences and activities can have an amazing effect on a child’s development.  I have not only seen this effect in my children.  Speaking with the parents from numerous travelling families, who now find themselves with more time to play, they all say the same thing; this time together has been monumental in their children’s confidence and development.  Our children have spent loads of time outside their normal comfort zones, with an amazing effect.

Without wanting to digress, there is a movement in the UK now (Tim’s home country) that is looking at a risk-benefit approach to child policy; instead of becoming obsessed with eliminating risk altogether (which is not realistic).  Anyway, the talk was fascinating and very thought provoking.

That evening, I attended the Gala Dinner for the conference.  The theme of the dinner was ‘Bollywood’, and all the ladies attending was presented with an imported sari. For this I was very thankful.  My wardrobe has become very limited during travels, and there were no frock shops up the Old Telegraph Track on the Cape York Peninsular.  The theme of the night was a hit, and everyone had a laugh at attempts to tie and dress in the sari. 

We were entertained with some authentic Bollywood dancers, and urged to get up and have a go ourselves.  This was great fun, and added to the relaxed ambience of the evening.  A wonderful meal, and chat to some of the Playgroup staff and conference attendees, and the night was over.  I had a great time.

The next morning the day was opened with the announcement of the launch of the annual media awards, and presentations to this year’s winners.  Andrew Forster (who works for SE Queensland ABC) was the winner of the photographic category, for his work photographing children at the ‘World’s biggest Playgroup’ Toowoomba session during National Playgroup Week.  He highlighted the importance of ‘getting down to a child’s level’ to get great and natural photographs of children at play.

Playgroup ConferencePlaygroup Conference PodiumI was then presented with my award for ‘Playgroup Profile’.  I had put together a short presentation on our travels, and what inspired me to visit Playgroups around Australia.  I’m not great at public speaking, but fortunately my practices in front of Mike and some other travelling friends had paid off, and I managed a respectable presentation.

I stayed until morning tea, listening to some other interesting talks around child development, and policy.  It was all very thought provoking, and made me glad that people take the time to consider and discuss the best ways to encourage positive child development.  Hopefully the ideas and knowledge generated through forums such as these will ultimately find their way into improving education and child policy.

Unfortunately I had some much needed chores to attend to before my mate turned up from Port Fairy to spend some quality girl time with me.  I really enjoyed listening in the sessions I was able to, and it has inspired me to read more around these subjects.

So my trip to Melbourne was fabulous.  Thank you to Playgroup for recognizing my blog and my work.  I am truly happy you like it. 

Rossiter Street Playgroup – Rapid Creek, Darwin

It feels like forever since we have been to a Playgroup.  After we left Broome, we have been roughing it through the Kimberly’s and some of the Northern Territory’s National Parks.  Small towns have been few and far between, and the opportunity for a Playgroup visit was nonexistent.   We arrived at Katherine, only to discover it was still school holidays in NT, so again Playgroup was out.  We would have to wait until Darwin.

Being away from the convenience of a town for so long, we had heaps of stuff to catch up on, so we stayed in Darwin for quite a while, which meant we also had a great opportunity to visit a Playgroup.  I think I was looking forward to it almost as much as the kids, for I was getting over the earache of the kids asking about our next Playgroup visit, and Rhys asking if they had a train set.

Our morning at the Rossiter Street Playgroup was going to be an extra special event.  It was the day before Coby’s fifth Birthday.  All of our travelling family friends were off doing other things far away from Darwin, so there were no other little people to share in the celebrations.

I managed to sneak in a little chocolate butter cake, m&m decorations and candles, and got permission for the indulgence from the other mothers at the centre.  Birthday cake was definitely allowed, especially one involving chocolate.

Rossiter St playgroup BirthdaySo after the customary free play and chatter, we got down to snack time.  Coby’s face lit up like a Christmas tree when she saw the cake, and heard the group rendition of Happy Birthday.  We all had to laugh when she remarked ‘But mummy, it’s not my birthday until tomorrow!’  Even though we were all unknown to the group, there was certainly a lot of fervor for Coby and her special day.  Thanks guys for your kindness and enthusiasm.  It never ceases to amaze me how friendly and welcoming Playgroup mums are.

Rossiter Street Playgroup shares a building with 3-year old Kindy.  The kitchen and some resources are shared, but the two centres are completely separate.  It is a very well equipped Playgroup, with lots of room inside and out, with that all important air-conditioning for the hot and humid weather due to descend upon Darwin in a month or so.

Rossiter St playgroupThe centre has two sessions every day of the week, with some sessions specifically for babies and new mums.  Most sessions are open to all ages for all families.

And yes they do have a train set, Thomas the Tank Engine to be exact.  Rhys was in heaven.  They also have some great indoor play equipment, including slides and cubby houses.  This must come in really handy when it is just too hot to play outside.

Unfortunately, this will be our only Northern Territory Playgroup.  We are heading down to Litchfield National Park, and then across to the Queensland coast via the Savannah Way, through more isolated areas.  We are hoping to do another group in an outback Queensland town before we hit the coast, but we will have to see how times match up.

Broome Jack and Jill Playgroup Centre.

Broome is an incredibly nice place to visit, especially in the winter.  We have spent over a week here, and every day temperatures have reached above 30°C, without the humidity.  We have had a blast here, swimming and watching the sun go down at Cable Beach with other travelling families, Camel rides, visiting the Malcolm Douglas Croc Park and Wildlife Park, and enjoying the tropical winter in the pool at the caravan park. 

After our week in Broome, we ventured north up to Middle Lagoon and Cape Leveque on the Dampier Peninsula.  The caravan was left behind as the road was too rough to bring it on such a short trip.  The kids just loved the novelty of sleeping under the stars in a tent, hearing the ocean lapping at the shore.

On our last day camping, after being in the region for almost two weeks, the kids started getting itchy feet and asking me when their next playgroup visit would be.  I decided we should squeeze in a visit to the Broome Jack and Jill Playgroup Center at Lotteries House.  We were due onto the road again that afternoon, but Mike had some Patrol maintenance issues, and I was keen to visit another group before we ventured inland to areas so isolated that Playgroup was unlikely to exist.

Broome Playgroup RhysThe group co­ordinator for the Wednesday group was a lady called Ally.  She showed me around and introduced me to all the mums.  It is a lovely, somewhat quiet and close knit group, who were also very welcoming.

I’ve started to notice more and more the impact Playgroup visits and travelling are having on my children.  Four months ago, the kids always wanted my undivided attention, all hours of the day, and especially in group environments such as Playgroup.  Even now, they still fight over my attention whenever bored or tired.  But I realized today at the Playgroup in Broome how far they really have come, and what a positive influence Playgroup and travelling was having on their little personalities.  They are finally both happy to run off in an unfamiliar environment to fend for themselves, and make friends with the other children.Broome Playgroup Coby

This group is such a small group. With young children, it was difficult to organise much of the structured learning.  On the other hand, I loved the way every mother knew every other child’s name, likes and dislikes.  The mums really spent a lot of the session just sitting down with the kids playing with them.  The kids seemed so comfortable with all the mums; it was difficult for an outside to tell who belonged to whom.

After a shared fruit snack, one of the more outgoing children, and his sidekick took it upon themselves to organise a ‘jamming’ session.  The kids pulled out the box of musical instruments outside, and invited everyone else to join in.  Most of the kids were keen, and they all sat around making heaps of noise on their instrument of choice together as a group.  What amazed me most was the total lack of adult input, the kids organised themselves for a group activity.  It just goes to show how confident these kids are here.  I was also happy that I have finally met another 3 year-old who talks as much as Rhys. 

Unfortunately, Rhys still being in those terrible three’s stage can have difficulty controlling his emotions.  He was having such a great time at Broome Playgroup, that when it was all over, he decided to have a temper tantrum.  The Broome mums took it as a positive sign that their Playgroups was well loved by all little ones, and so they should.

Exmouth Playgroup Centre

Mike went off to swim with whale sharks for the day, so it was just me and the kids.  We decided a visit to the Exmouth Playgroup Centre was in order

It was Friday, which is 3 year-old kindy day at Exmouth.  The children all arrived at 9 am, with the 3 year olds encouraged to bring their bags with lunch and drink bottles.  They unpack themselves to get them use to the routine of kindy for when they are 4. Welcome to Exmouth Playgroup

The kindergarten session is organised by the mums and carers.  The main organiser, who structures the learning program, just happens to be a qualified teacher who volunteered for the job.  During the first hour or so, the kids have planned craft and learning activities with some parent joining in and helping.  Younger siblings and other mums start playgroup in the other room.  After the planned activities, the 3 year olds move outside for games and a story. 

Kindy is then essentially finished and all the kids sit down together for morning tea, which is shared fruit.  After this it is free play for everyone until midday.

Exmouth Playgroup RhysThere was a little science project going on in one corner of the room.  They had a fish tank set up, with two developing tadpoles in it.  The children were tracking the lifecycles of frogs, and had a great little storybook to compliment their observations.  This is a great ‘hands on’ way to introduce children to science and nature.

Another feature that I thought was great was a separate gated section especially for babies and non-walking toddlers.  Babies can often get caught up in the rough and tumble of family playgroup sessions, so giving them their own safe space is great for them and their carers, who don’t have to keep such an eagle eye on them.

The playgroup centre was originally a daycare centre linked to the American Military Base in Exmouth, and was donated to the council when the base was shut down after September 11.  The centre was then donated to the community for use as a Playgroup Centre.  It is open every day from 9-12 except Thursday where it is open in the afternoon instead.  Wednesday is Kinder music day, and every session is open to all families.

Exmouth is a very transient town.   It is also very isolated, with the two nearest towns being a couple of hours drive away.  They Playgroup Centre is a social hub for the town’s mums and children, and many families visit the centre more than once per week.  Some of the mums I spoke with feel it has been a real lifeline for them to meet others when they were new arrivals to the town, and I felt that it was one of the most welcoming Playgroups I have been to.  I was invited back for Monday if we were still around.A day at the Races

The weekend was rainy, and the kids were pretty much cooped up in the caravan the entire time.  Monday came, and it was my turn to go whale sharking.  The kids were going stir-crazy, so Mike took up the very welcome invite for a revisit.  There really was a not much more undercover kid’s activity available to us in Exmouth.  That evening, Coby told me all about their dress-up play, and how daddy accompanied her to the ‘races’.  Mike showed me all the photos of her and Rhys dressed up from the dress up box.  Coby assured me dad was an enthusiastic participant in this role-playing game.  It’s usually me that partakes in those imaginative scenarios.

Thanks to the mums of Exmouth for the warm welcome, and for giving us a place to go for some fun on an incredibly raining morning.

Kalbarri Playgroup

With the Easter school holidays, and us starting to venture again into more remote areas, we haven’t been to a playgroup in almost 4 weeks.  They were having playtime withdrawals, so I didn’t tell them about our Kalbarri Playgroup visit until just before we left.  Actually I asked them if they wanted to go, and I got a very excited YES shouted in unison.

I was welcomed by Kylie, the group’s main contact and organiser.  It was the first day back after the holidays, so the kids were raring to get into it.  The easels were set up with paints, paper and smocks and every child had a turn at painting.  All except Rhys who had eyeballed the trucks in the sandpit immediately, and pretty much stayed with that theme all session.

Kalbarri Playgroup is held on a Tuesday morning 9:30 to 11:30 at the Occasional Daycare Centre.  It is a small group, with around 10 families regularly attending.  There is another kids group in town on a different day at the Kinder Gym, where some of the families like to attend both.  But this playgroup provides a quieter session for the children who prefer a less boisterous and more attentive environment.  Their outlays are minimal, so apart from the modest term fee, their two or so fundraisers every year pretty much cover all their costs.

As they hire the centre, there are many jobs to do throughout the session.  They were trialing a system, where tasks such as ‘make tea and coffee’, ‘sweep floor’ and ‘wash up’ were put on cards.  All the carers were randomly allocated jobs for the day.  I thought this was a great idea for sharing the load, although by their very nature, mums tend to muck in well anyway.

During the session, the kids all sat down together for fruit and popcorn.  Another good idea this group had was to have a bucket of warm soapy water next to the table with a towel.  All the children were encouraged to clean their hands before sitting down for snack time.

Otherwise, the session was free play, both inside and out.  The centre was currently being renovated, so only half the outdoor equipment was accessible, but they had a great variety of toys and, as always, the kids had a blast.

PlayConnect Margaret River

April is Autism awareness month, and whilst visiting Margaret River, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit my first Playconnect Playgroup. 

Playconnect is a playgroup specifically for families with children who have Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or their symptoms. 

I was greeted by Linda, the outgoing coordinator for this group, and Rhiannon, who will be taking over from Linda next term.  Linda’s role was to organise and facilitate the group, and to also put families in touch with other autism support services in the area, of which there are many.  There is a federal funding package called Helping Children with Autism, which funds a range of services including occupational therapy, speech therapy and health services.  Playconnect is just one of several services available to assist families.  Children don’t even require a formal diagnosis to attend Playconnect, so the support is there for anyone who needs it.

The main aim of Playconnect is to get families dealing with an autism spectrum child to get together to support each other.  It can be very confronting attending a normal playgroup with a child who is different.  This setup gives families and carers the opportunity to benefit from Playgroup in an environment more suited to their child’s needs and abilities. One of the mothers I spoke with said she felt very alone when she discovered her child had ASD.  She liked the group, because until she first attended Playconnect, she didn’t know anyone in the area going through the same challenges as her family.

The group started term 4, 2010, so had only been going for two terms.  Already there are around half a dozen families that regularly attend.  Playconnect is heavily supported by Playgroup Australia, supplying all kinds of resources and play ideas that cater specifically for ASD children.

Linda informed me most of the play activities are sensory play.  Sometimes, and ASD child can have sensory issues than other children are usually not affected by.  These issues can be dealt with, and hopefully minimised through a fun, play activity.  For example, if the child has issues with water and bathing, a water-based play activity can help to overcome the stress and anxiety of water through a fun and interactive technique.  Apart from this, the children also enjoyed just using everything the centre had to offer, such as toys, the sandpit, swings and outdoor play equipment.

This Playconnect is held in the local dedicated Playgroup centre, which had a regular group every other day of the week.  Children who attend Playconnect can also attend other sessions if their family wishes.  Cathy, one of the mothers I spoke with, has three boys, with her middle child affected by ASD.  She attends both Playconnect and another session every week with her two youngest boys, as her ASD son is comfortable attending regular Playgroup.  She finds it beneficial for all of them to attend both sessions.

So what happens during a Playconnect session?  It is pretty much like regular Playgroup, but with a facilitator to organise a few more structured activities.  The groups also tend to be smaller than most groups, so it is a quieter and more focused environment.  The children had free play for most of the session, with craft activities such as painting, a feather-based pasting, and drawing.  Children were encouraged to sit down together to enjoy their snacks, and then Linda organised a song and play session towards the end.  This is where the extra resources can come in handy.  We sang songs with visual aids.  Linda also signed along with the songs, to encourage a broader range of communication techniques which can help some ASD children.  ASD children can have communication issues, so exposure to a range of communication methods can help with language skills.

As it was the session before Easter, we finished off with an Easter Egg hunt.  You know, children with ASD are not so very different from other children when fun things like chocolate are involved.  Easter, chocolate, attention and playtime all are a source of excitement and joy when given with love from family and support networks.

Esperance Playgroup Centre

After the heat and dust of Kalgoorlie, we headed south to the coastline to enjoy the National Parks, pristine beaches and relaxed atmosphere of Esperance.  While we were there, we had the opportunity to visit the Esperance Playgroup Centre.

Rhys & Louise at playCoby, Rhys and Louise were really excited they were visiting a playgroup for 3-4 years olds, just the right group for them.  We were welcomed by Brooke, who was the president of the playgroup committee.

Esperance playgroup had been in existence for as long as anyone could remember.  In fact, Brooke remembers coming with her mother to playgroup in the same building when she was a child.

This Playgroup is very popular, with around 8 sessions per week, most of which are full.  They attempt to make the sessions age specific, but as other siblings come along, they become more and more mixed.  There was some concern that the center was getting a bit too small for the demand.

Everyone mucked in and helped with the set-up and chores.  We brought a piece of fruit, which was cut up onto big platters and shared for morning tea.  All the children were encouraged to sit down and eat together.  The mums are keen bakers, with home-made muffins and profiteroles on offer for the adults.  After fruit, there were pikelets and hot-crossed buns to fill up the busy, hungry children.  It was such a lovely day that most of the mums sat outside in the shade to chat and supervise the kids.  It was a close knit group of old friends.  Newborn babies were passed around so mum could have a coffee in peace, and kids were comfortable in their environment.Coby dressed up in book corner

The center itself was well set up.  There was a shaded playgroup, and heaps of outdoor toys such as wheelbarrows and cars.  There were all neatly stored in a suitable shed.  Inside there was a great range of toys, and a reading corner for kids to sit and chill out if they wanted to.  There was even a book resource for adults to borrow relevant books about parenting and breastfeeding.

Our kids had a great time.  In fact, Rhys was reluctant to leave, even when everyone else had gone out the gate.  Needless to say, it was easy to convince him to have an afternoon nap soon after Playgroup.

Kalgoorlie Central

After a very tough four days driving across the Nullarbor, the kids were extremely excited when I mentioned the word ‘Playgroup’.  We were off to visit Kalgoorlie Central for the morning.  The older kids from the families we were travelling with went to the Superpit for a tour, so little Louise and her mum also came along with us for a morning of fun.

Kalgoorlie Central had a dedicated building just for Playgroup.  There were 15 sessions per week, which included one session for multiple birth families, and a Saturday session to encourage working parents (especially dads) to spend some playtime with their children.  Each session was for a specific age group, but open to all ages to cater for families with a few young ones.

The groups session we attended was organised by Jennifer.  However, the committee President, Mel Kaese, was kind enough to pop in to chat with me about their setup.

The building was originally donated to the council on the provision that it was used for children.  Playgroup was therefore able to rent it off the council for a token $10 per year, but they are in charge of their own maintenance, utility costs and cleaning.  With having so many families utilising the service, they have established a cleaning and maintenance roster amongst themselves so that all money can be put back into the centre for the children.  They also have several gardening/maintenance sessions every year, which conclude with a family BBQ. This gives the entire family a chance to get involved in their children’s playgroup, and meet other families. 

Mel emphasized that they tried to make the Playgroup as accessible and inclusive as possible.  Unlike most towns, Kalgoorlie is a place where lots of people come and go, to do a stint in a mining job for a few years and then move on.  Quite often this is young families, where mum is a full time parent.  Moving to Kalgoorlie for their partners work, they can find themselves stuck at home in a town where they know nobody.  Playgroup can be a vital social outlet for these mums (and kids), and this group sees it as their role to help these families, as well as provide the service for town lifers.  Playgroup keeps running during the school holidays.  They even occasionally got the mums together for a night out, minus the children.

The group we visited was actually for children 12-18 months.  The ladies in the group had all been together since pre-natal classes, and the group had evolved into Playgroup.  Around half of them were now pregnant with number 2, and see their group as a wonderful opportunity to get out with their littlies and socialise with old friends in the same situation.

Because of the age of the children, the entire session was just free-play in the air-conditioning.  The three older kids played inside for a while, and then looked longingly outside, faces pressed to glass doors.  The playground had masses of equipment, including a ‘Queenslander’ style cubby house.  We had to let them have a bit of a burn outside.

A definite advantage to having a dedicated building was pack up time.  Toys still had to be stowed in boxes and the room tidied, but it did not have to be hidden from view.  Artwork can be left on display, and there are great themed paintings on the walls.  The building was certainly fulfilling the previous owner’s desire for use by children.


Ceduna Playgroup

We stopped in Ceduna, eastern gateway to the Nullarbor, in preparation for the 1300 km trip.  While we were there, we had the opportunity to visit the Ceduna playgroup.

Ceduna Playgroup is run by ‘Save the Children’.  The vision of Save the Children ‘is a world in which every child attains the right to survival, protection, development and participation’.  Part of this vision is a child’s right to have the opportunity to learn through access to education.  This can be a real challenge in isolated areas in Australia, so the assistance of organisation such as this can really help a community.

Petrina from Save the Children with the KidsI was welcomed by Petrina and Sonya, who both worked for ‘Save the Children’.  Petrina herself supported 4 different playgroups, which involved travelling over 700 km on a weekly basis to run 3 other groups in isolated townships (apart from her hometown of Ceduna) and to support families with young children.  I really admire the dedication this commitment must take, and she was so enthusiastic about her role.  ‘Save the Children’ had taken over the running of this playgroup term 4 in 2010, when the local mum who was running it returned to work. Numbers have increased during this time, so now 16 families attend regularly

This playgroup is also an intensive support playgroup, which means extra support services are available.  They have access to a social worker, if required, to assist with the integration of families into the group.  .

Playgroup was held in the local Kindergarten, where staff from the Kindy regularly attended the Playgroup session.  This was to help facilitate the integration of children into Kindy when it was time for them to go.  However, this Playgroup was open to all ages.

Each week, the group had a different theme.  This week the theme was transport.  There were relevant pictures to colour, shapes to paste and of course the toy trains and trucks to play with.  They also had stamp painting and free play.  A wide variety of fruit was provided for snack time, and the children all sat down together for morning tea. 

The last half hour was structured learning.  Petrina read a story (associated with the theme of the week), and then we had some activities which involve flashcards around colours, numbers, situations and feelings.  There is a bit of repetition week to week which works well for this age group. All the children had their full attention on the activities, and really got into the interactive learning.  The session was finished with songs, some of which involved learning materials and more interaction.  My children had never experienced this before, and were absolutely captivated, and wanted to be included with everything, as did all the other children.  Finally, we packed up and said our goodbyes.

I left feeling so positive about this experience.  Even in the country, where people can be so isolated, there are organizations that show how much they care for children and their development.  All the mums I spoke with loved this set up, and were grateful that they had such a fantastic Playgroup to attend.


Port Lincoln Playgroup

We had arrived in Port Lincoln on Wednesday afternoon, and I was thinking we had just missed the two playgroups in town, one on Tuesday morning, and another on Wednesday afternoon.  I guess one of the upsides of breaking down for a week here was that we got the opportunity to visit a local Playgroup.

The Tuesday morning Port Lincoln Playgroup is held in a local church hall.  It has been running for as long as anyone can remember. Some of the mums have spoken with teenagers that remember coming to playgroup at the very same hall in their childhood.  But nobody seemed to know when it started.

It is a very well established group.  I spoke mainly with Rachel, who is the co-coordinator for this group, and Jodie, who is the treasurer.  Both had been involved with the group for at least 2 or 3 years, and were very passionate about making it a group where local families can get the most out of the experience.  Their main aim was to keep families coming by providing the best possible experience for the children.  Around 26 families are attending this group regularly, and the group has grown in size over the last couple of years.

This playgroup is very diverse.  It caters for all age groups up until school.  Rachel was telling me that last year there were a large number of the children around 4 years old.  Now they had all gone off to school, and the group was greatly populated by babies and very young children, so the dynamics have changed a lot in a small amount of time.  Jodie has tried to use their limited funds to accommodate the changing make up of children, and purchase new toys that will be suitable to stimulate the major demand.

There are heaps of toys for all different ages, including a dress-up box that I couldn’t drag Coby away from for the entire 2 hours.Dress Up @ Port Lincoln Playgroup  Some of the newer toys included a construction bench, and a play kitchen, complete with a stack of fruit and vegetables, a cooker, pots, pans and sink.  These were very popular.  There was also a play dough bench with a variety of rollers, cutters and imprints.  Rhys was in heaven with the train set and the numerous toy cars and trucks.

Jodie and Rachel organize one craft activity per week.  Occasionally one of the other mothers comes up with a craft idea, and has a turn at organising.  This week was caterpillars, made with egg cartons and decorated with paint, eyes and pipe cleaners for legs and antennas.  They have set up some fabulous craft carts that are stored neatly under the stage of the hall.  The cart is full of neatly stacked containers of paint, pencils, glitter, feathers, pasting shapes and dozens of different items.  A lot of thought and work went into setting this up, so they have all the materials they need at hand for each week.

There is a lot of focus on fun, but not much focus on structure.  The general idea is to turn up, and play.  Parents and carers can help themselves to coffee, and bring snacks for their own children for when they get hungry.  The final 15 minutes is story time while the adults pack up.  All the children spend the entire time busy with the variety of toys and activities on offer. 

After the fun of the Port Lincoln Playgroup, my two children demanded an afternoon sleep for the first time in ages.  It is certainly a group to keep the littlies stimulated.

Glenelg East, Adelaide

On Friday 4th March we had our first Playgroup visit on the road.  I had phoned ahead, so they were expecting us at the Dunbar Terrace Kindergarten Playgroup in Glenelg East, Adelaide. 

Two mums, Sally and Natasha, share the responsibility of organizing this Playgroup, which caters for children from 2 ½ to 4.  Younger siblings are also very welcome to attend with their older brothers or sisters.   They run on a Friday, from 11:00 to 12:30, but it is a very popular group, with approximately 20 families attending on this particular day.

Sally told me that this group was specifically to get children ready for pre-Kindy, which is the session before playgroup on a Friday.  It gives the children an opportunity to get to know one another, and become familiar with the Kindergarten surroundings with the secure knowledge that their parent/carer is there with them.  When the time comes for pre-kindy, where they have to say goodbye to mums and dads, they are so familiar with the routine, that the transition is smooth.  Sally has already experienced this with her two eldest children, and is an avid and long-term supporter of the group.

Sandy, the Playgroup contact who actually works for the Kindergarten, told me that this was a common setup in South Australia.  Often, it was the Kindergarten staff that ran and organized the Playgroup, but she felt that she was very fortunate to have two wonderful mums who were willing to share the responsibility.

When I arrived with Coby and Rhys, everything was already set up from the pre-kindy session.  There were several arts and craft stations, including playdough, pasting, drawing and painting.  Outside under shade cloths there was a sandpit, as well as a wooden road set complete with ramps, buildings, road signs and cars.  Rhys pretty much parked himself there for the entire first hour, and I barely heard a peep from him.

Coby, on the other hand, wanted to try everything.  We have only been on the road for a week, and she was already feeling a bit toy-deprived, so she went crazy with the play kitchen, laundry and all the arts and craft stations.  She was so excited; she wanted to show me everything she found and liked about the place.  Anybody would think she had never seen a toy before.Kids Playgroup Artwork

All the mothers I spoke with were really positive about the group.  They liked the fact that their children will already be friends with their future Kindergarten peers.  It was a really relaxed environment, which showed through the children, who pretty much just got into the activities without a lot of fuss and bother.  There was a nice mix of people, including a lot of Adelaide locals and some mums from England.  I also spoke with a lovely lady who had recently immigrated with her husband and young daughter to Australia from India.  Despite the fact that she was rather shy and quiet, she felt comfortable to come to this welcoming playgroup regularly.

After the first hour of free-play, everyone pitched in to clear up all the toy and craft stations.  Everyone came inside for mat-time, with their own healthy lunch or snack.  Then we talked about the fruit of the week, listened to a story, played and danced to some.  This is the regular routine for the group, and everyone participates.  Then it was time to say goodbye and go home.

Thank you very much to the Dunbar Terrace Playgroup for making our first Playgroup visit so much fun.

Our Family & Playgroup

Mike and I met in Mike’s home village of Biddenden, Kent in 2000, while I was visiting the UK on a 2-year working holiday visa. Fell in love and got married in November 2002. At the time, England was the place for us while we were young and had few responsibilities outside of work. We did our fare share of travelling, and made the most of that stage of our life.

Our life entered a new chapter when Coby was born in London August 2006. Through pre-natal classes, I had established a fantastic network of other new mums. London had loads of services and opportunities for all kinds of activities, from weekly movies sessions just for mums with newborns, to power-praming and baby swimming. Deciding to move back to Australia and start over in Brisbane in 2008 was a very daunting experience. We barely knew a soul in the local area, and I wasn’t expecting the opportunities London provided for mums with babies.

I first rocked up to the local Playgroup two weeks after moving in. Mike had just started a new job, and I was a full time mum. Coby was 18 months old and not yet walking, Rhys was 6 weeks old, and I was scared stiff, facing an immediate future of loneliness and isolation. I’ll never forget the enthusiastic welcome I received moments after walking through that door to our first Playgroup. During the course of the session (2 hours on Friday morning) every single mother came over to introduce themselves and their children. I remember leaving that morning feeling positive and happy that I had at least one social occasion to look forward to every week.

Playgroup was fun. Coby loved the different toys, the structured craft activities and interacting with the other kids. In good weather, the children played outside, and occasionally they had some water play time. The lady that ran the Friday playgroup was a Primary School teacher in her pre-children life, so she always led a story and singing session at the end.

I loved the way the mums with the older, more independent kids bunked in and helped the mums with newborns. I even occasionally got to drink my tea while it was hot, while Rhys was passed around willing minders. When I was confined to a chair inside to breastfeed, random mums and kids would come over to chat. The local mums gave me inside information about child friendly cafes and shopping areas, which really helped with setting up our new life. It was a great opportunity to have some adult conversation.

When it was obvious that I was going to be a regular to playgroup, I started getting invites to the local playground, and coffee mornings outside of the regular Playgroup. We even had a monthly mum’s night out, where we attempted to talk about anything NOT to do with children and motherhood. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t started off from scratch like we had could appreciate what a difference these outlets can make to your life. Meeting up with other families was often the only chance my children had for interaction with other kids, and the benefits were obvious in Coby’s development. We all looked forward to Playgroup.

Sadly, Mike was one of the first casualties of the Global Financial Crisis, and was made redundant. I had to return to work at the end of my maternity leave, and was transferred to SW Victoria soon after. Yet another new start for our family. Unfortunately, this time we moved to a small town without a Playgroup, but our children do get to meet other children through Family Day Care.

One of my biggest concerns about doing this trip around Australia is Coby won’t be able to go to Kindergarten. She will miss out on the structure and learning activities that come with Kindergarten in preparation for school. So we intend to visit Playgroups as we travel. I know the variety of activities and opportunity to learn will help to fill that gap.

I am interested in the different types of Playgroups, in different communities around our vast and multicultural country. I hope to be able to gather and share ideas with groups along the way. This trip is supposed to be a learning and growing experience for our entire family. I believe visiting Playgroups will be a great opportunity to meet local families everywhere we go, and hopefully get some local tips on places to visit. Of course, the opportunity to do craft, play with different toys and run around will be the focus of the kid’s excitement. We mostly just want to have fun.










6 Responses

  1. great blog 🙂

    Are you going all the way around Australia?
    If you visit NSW it would be great to see you at our playgroup – Ashtonfield Shamrock @ East Maitland on thursdays 10 to 2.
    Email me if you will be in our area 🙂

    Enjoy your trip

    • Hi Liz,
      I’m really glad you like the blog, and thanks a lot for the invitiation. We are planning to be in NSW towards the end of the trip, around the end of December. Depending on school holidays, we could possilby make your group the last one we visit.
      Keep in touch and happy reading.

  2. Glad to hear your first Playgroup visit went well. Safe travels on the next leg of your journey and hopefully we’ll hear about your adventures during National Playgroup Week! 🙂


  3. SHaron this is all so fascinating. Its exciting to hear about your travels. It sounds wonderful and I guess as you read back on your blog you’ll remember how much of an amazing experience you’re having and perhaps realise what a staggering brilliant thing it is your are setting out on. I’m sure as time goes by you’ll find you have little routines and methods and tempers will calm. As to afternoon naps, it could be at age 3 Rhys is outgrowing his….. they soon adjust and stop being so grumpy….

    And of course it is immensely heartening to read about everything being so positive. We move in about 3 weeks……..

    Hope all your teething problems with the vehicle clear up soon. Can’t wait to see you!

  4. Hi Sharon and Mike
    Was so great having you and the family visit our Playgroup at the Port Douglas Neighbourhood Centre today. We hope you enjoyed the morning. Sorry you missed our group time of stories and songs. It was lovely to see Coby and Rhys settle in so easily – being on the road does much for the confidence and social skills. We look forward to seeing you tomorrow at the Mossman Playgroup for National Children’s Week.

  5. Hi Sharon, Mike, Coby and Rhys,

    I’m sorry in the delay of a reply from me, but work has been a bit busy. It was a real treat for us to have you at the Multicultural Playgroup in Townsville. What a wonderful experience you are providing for your children. They seemed very comfortable and confident in the PG environment. It would have been great if you could have visited more of our great Playgroups in Townsville. Maybe next trip. Thanks and Take Care Trish

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