After my daughter was born, I joined a mothers group in my area, which was organised through the local maternal and child health centre. Each week, it seemed, a mother left the group or went back to work and it wasn't long until it wasn't really much of a group at all.
Because I was planning to be a stay at home mother, I decided to get proactive about giving my daughter some social time, especially since she had no cousins or friends of the same age.
So I began looking for some daytime activities my daughter might like to do. We attended Gymbaroo for around a year which was fantastic – she loved climbing and playing on her own. But she was never very comfortable with any of the group activities. I was really looking for something that ran a little longer and cost a little less too. We tried swimming for the same amount of time, but she hated getting her face wet! We also tried music classes but she just didn't gel there either.
Finally, at three years of age, she'd been to her first playgroup – and at last – something she went to and didn't want to leave!
Even after I had my second child, playgroup was so much fun for them both. There's a playgroup for everyone, with groups designed for mothers speaking certain languages, to mothers with certain parenting styles and so much more.
So, What's A Playgroup Exactly?
A playgroup is for children aged 0-4 years and their parents or carers. Thousands of playgroup sessions happen each week in all corners of Victoria at community venues such as maternal and child health centres, kindergartens, halls, community centres and primary schools. Playgroups are parent run and not for profit.
Close to 36,000 families attend playgroup in Victoria.
What Can Children Get Out Of Playgroup?
Playgroup-aged children are going through a stage of rapid brain and skill development. At playgroup children can:
- Develop their skills of cooperation through music, group singing, free play and snack time
- Develop verbal and non verbal communication skills through their contact with other children and adults
- Develop fine and gross motor skills
- Gain better body control, hand to eye coordination, spatial awareness and balance when they play with balls, sand, blocks, puzzles, playdough, paint and paste
- Discover shape, size, texture, quantity and consistency when they play with dough and clay
- Learn to recognise colours, develop fine motor skills and express inner emotions by experimenting with paint, collage, chalk, crayons and stamps.
- Extend their experience of literacy in a social environment.
Why Playgroup Great For Parents
Playgroup can be a lifeline for parents with young children, who might not have other opportunities to get to know local parents going through similar experiences.
Here are some of the reasons parents attend playgroup:
- “The playgroup has been going for years and there's a good supply of toys, play equipment, books and a great outdoor area.”
- “It's giving my child some stimulating experiences in a relaxed, informal setting.”
- “It opens up the community to you. Before I went to playgroup I had no idea where the best places were to go locally for a good children's doctor or that you could go to the hall down the road for immunisations.”
- “I want to meet people who have children the same age as mine.”
- “I'm not ready to hand over my child to someone else yet. I'd rather be there and be involved.”
- “It's affordable.”
- “I'm an army wife and we move around a bit. Playgroup is more like an extended family or support group to army families.”
- “I feel comfortable with the other women at playgroup; it used to be a mother's group. I can say anything to them and still feel I'm okay.”
- “I like getting out of the house each week away from the mess.”
- “It's good to see how other parents solve problems with their children. We've only got one child but we'd like to have more. There's one woman at playgroup who's got four children. She's a good person to talk to sometimes.”
- “This is my fourth child and playgroup is a special time each week I can spend just with her.”
- “I'd like my child to get to know some kids he's likely to go to kinder with.”
Every playgroup mother I have spoken to has strongly recommended that those thinking about going should definitely give playgroups a go! They found their playgroups through their mothers group, from maternal and child health nurses, through word of mouth or through the playgroup website – see the link at the bottom of the page.
What Do BellyBelly Mothers Think About Their Playgroups?
Michelle says the benefits for her have resulted in life long, special friendships. “I started playgroup in 1998 until the end of 2003. These girls are my best friends, we are always there for each other, we go away one weekend a year (girls only) and we meet one night each week – even just for coffee and cake. We also meet once per week with the littles (the original playgroup children are now at school), the second children are at kinder and now there are a few of us with our third child.”
Christy, mother to 12 month old Matilda suggests ‘shopping around' for a suitable playgroup. “Definitely investigate and find one that suits you and your baby/child. There are so many out there that are run differently. We decided we enjoy having a free play session as well as some structure. Matilda doesn't like structure, but its good for her to be around it.”