Play­ing for keeps

Sunday Herald Sun - - NEWS - SUSIE O’BRIEN

PLAYGROUPS are pos­i­tive for both par­ents and kids, of­fer­ing fun, friends and a help­ing hand, a new study shows.

Re­searchers from the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Fam­ily Stud­ies ex­am­ined ex­ist­ing re­search on playgroups from 2000 to 2015, and found mul­ti­ple ben­e­fits.

They con­clude playgroups of­fer a pos­i­tive so­cial ex­pe­ri­ence for par­ents, help them make new friends and en­able them to learn more about car- ing for their kids. “So­cial ben­e­fits of­ten ex­tended out­side of the sup­ported play­group — in one study 68 per cent of fam­i­lies had con­tact with other play­group fam­i­lies out­side of the play­group ses­sion,” lead au­thor Joanne Com­mer­ford said.

“Par­ent­ing skills de­vel­oped within the play­group led par­ents to be­com­ing more con­fi­dent in car­ing for their young.”

Chil­dren also ben­e­fited from go­ing to playgroups, with re­searchers find­ing they had be­come more ac­tively in­volved in play and con­fi­dence the more they started at­tend­ing.

A few of the stud­ies showed bar­ri­ers to at­ten­dance, in­clud­ing wor­ries about chil­dren’s be­hav­iour, trans­port dif­fi­cul­ties, the abil­ity to re­late to other par­ents and health is­sues.

Ms Com­mer­ford also re­vealed dis­ad­van­taged fam­i­lies “were least likely to at­tend but most likely to ben­e­fit”. The stud­ies re­searchers ex­am­ined also showed sup­ported playgroups can be en­try points that con­nect fam­i­lies to so­cial sup­port ser­vices such as health pro­fes­sion­als and ma­ter­nal health nurses.

Sinead Hal­l­i­day, pub­lic re­la­tions of­fi­cer for Playgroups Vic­to­ria, said around 1780 ac­tive playgroups were reg­is­tered with her or­gan­i­sa­tion, which has 8289 mem­bers.

How­ever, there are many more that spring up or­gan­i­cally, she said.

“Playgroups leave an in­deli­ble mark on fam­i­lies, es­pe­cially dur­ing try­ing times. The con­cept seems sim­ple, but the re­la­tion­ships and con­nec­tions that form within a play­group in­tri­cately link and bond peo­ple of all ages,” she said.

Ms Hal­l­i­day said par­tic­i­pants said they would be “very lonely with­out play­group”.

An­gel­ica, Jessie, Sonny and Posy buddy up at Bubba Fresh Play­group, Port Mel­bourne. Pic­ture: DAVID SMITH

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