The sound of play at Brown Hill

The gold rush may have long passed in the historic township of Ballarat, but some golden specks of dust still glimmer at the local playgroup. This playgroup first opened its doors 25 years ago at the Brown Hill Uniting Church. It now has weekly catch ups in the Caledonian Primary School. From down the road you hear the sound of play.

Many families live close by and walk to playgroup, such is the proximity. Often the children have siblings at the Brown Hill Kindergarten or Caledonian Primary School. The community is close knit and chances are, the playgroup kids will follow in their footsteps.

“It is a pleasure to be able to forge deeper relationships with families you would otherwise pass only briefly at kinder or school pick up and drop offs,” said Aimee Knight.

Aimee has recently taken up post as the playgroup’s coordinator. She said that it has been in the form of an old school newsletter that has strengthened the camaraderie within the community. The “Brown Hill Community Newsletter” is delivered to residences throughout the town bimonthly. The newsletter and an annual festival have encouraged many families to join the playgroup. It is having a resurgence.

“It is great to see people meeting and relationships growing when people realise they only live a few doors away from each other. It is great to feel a sense of connection and community within the Brown Hill community and that our playgroup is a part of that.”

Playgroup Victoria’s Development Manager Cath Healy became involved with the Brown Hill Playgroup as part of the Playgroups-in-Schools research project. She said that the playgroup has taken a lead role in looking at ways to integrate playgroup into the broader Caledonian Primary School community.

“Several representatives from the playgroup participated in the recent Playgroups-in-Schools Project gathering. It was great to see so many playgroup families volunteering their time to collaborate with teachers and principals, exploring ways to strengthen connections between playgroup families and school staff.”

Aimee has previously attended Brown Hill will her older children and now has returned with her two-year-old daughter and one-year-old son. Aimee values the inclusive nature of playgroup- that the children play with the parents and interact with the adults and the grandparents, too.

“It is great for kids that have mainly been at home with mum as the main carer. My children enjoy playing with me at playgroup, but also enjoy interacting with other parents, often serving up a pretend cup of tea or reading stories with other parents. Playgroup can definitely strengthen the family unit by spending time with your child, however sometimes at playgroup you play with your child, other times they are so settled playing with others that you can enjoy a cuppa and a chat.” 

Increasingly Aimee notices that books and imaginative play are replaced by screens when children become idle. The natural inclination of parents too is to pull out their phones. Ballarat is fully immersed in the technological age and for many families, the allure is too great and they become the focal point on many rainy days.

“The busyness of lives is revealing a change in our kids. We are using screens as babysitters allowing us a few minutes peace and quiet. While we are also engrossed in screens with parents constantly checking their phones or talking on their phones never really giving their children their full attention.”

At playgroup however, the focus returns to one another. Profound connections form between parent and child. The parents are present. There is quality time shared. A thing that cannot be easily sourced when there is money to be made and chores to be done. Together at playgroup, they are dragged into the present moment, together. They play and make believe. This is really good for the adults, too.

“I think playgroup is important for children to feel safe and supported with their parent or grandparent present so that they can meet new people, make new friends and try new activities."

Thank goodness for playgroup is the overall consensus. At playgroup, the attention is drawn back to one another, to storytelling, to playing and imagining what could be.

“I think what all kids want is essentially the same - love, attention and time from their parents and significant grown-ups in their lives.”

Article by Sinead Halliday