Playgroup Victoria’s Regional Road Trip
The rural and remote areas of Victoria are often close knit communities. You know your neighbours, have a yarn at the local supermarket and pitch in, in times of drought, emergency and need. In places of isolation, farming families for instance, battle to maintain a connection, especially while raising a young family. For new parents, it is a secondary challenge to ask for help and support in smaller districts where services and anonymity are not always easily accessible or comfortable. Playgroup is a soft entry point where parents and carers can get together in a relaxed setting, to the benefit of parent, carer and child.
Generally there is a hardworking, devoted person who creates the playgroup and keeps it bubbling along at a steady pace.
For people in metropolitan Melbourne, there are many options and opportunities available to families and playgroups. These same options and opportunities do not always extend to the outer corners of the suburbs and beyond into regional areas. Playgroup Victoria acknowledges this and is working to better assist and be part of these country communities.
CEO Danny Schwarz packed up the playgroup van with toys and activities and set off on a road trip with the endeavour to reinforce the value of these playgroups and to find out what we can do to support them.
On Monday I started at the Charlton swimming pool where the Charlton Playgroup was meeting. I met Jess and some of the Playgroup families. We spoke about what Playgroup Victoria could be doing to support them in what they like to do at playgroup. They explained that they like going to other towns where there are children’s activities. What they like even more is when people and activities come to them. They came up with some great ideas and I hope we can work with them to make some of their ideas come to life.
Next stop was the Boort Playgroup. Earlier this year the playgroup emailed us to say that they think that our website is really City Centric. The offers and activities were targeted at a city demographic which meant that communities in regional and rural Victoria cannot access them. While we are working to improve this, I agree with them. After spending some time with at the playgroup, the committee, Kate, Kerry, Meredith and I went back to Kerry’s house and had a really good discussion about what we could be doing. I look forward to being able to report back about our progress over the coming months.
Boort Playgroup Committee - Meredith, Kerry and Kate
Next was Echuca. Note to self, make sure you leave enough time to get from one place to the next. Luckily Tracy from Campaspe Shire in Echuca was flexible. Another note to self, probably could have stayed in Echuca instead of heading off to Swan Hill. Luckily the Beechworth Bakery Echuca was close by and I picked up a sugar fix in the form of a coffee scroll.
The next day I visited the Swan Hill Rostered Playgroup which operates at St Mary’s Primary School. The facilities are fantastic. I also meet with the Principal’s Ginny and Kate to discuss an exciting research project about Playgroups in Schools.
Another 20 minutes north is Nyah West Supported Playgroup. The playgroup is run at the Nyah West and District Kindergarten which allows for the playgroup to meet with the kinder program on a Tuesday. After the playgroup finished for the day one of the playgroup facilitators, Courtney, spoke to me about the program. Today was about tuning in to your child’s needs by doing things like giving them your full attention and trying to read your child’s signals. Courtney explained how she works with the families to give them tools they can use at home.
Back in the van I headed to Bendigo. I stopped and had a look around the amazing library in the centre of town and then found a little bush Cabin to stay in for the night.
In the morning I drove an hour west of Bendigo to Bealiba. On the way I noticed a sign at Lockwood Primary School. I dropped in on the way back and spoke with their Principal Sally Rule. While their playgroup is not connected to us at the moment, she was so happy that I happened to be driving past because they really need some help.
At Bealiba Primary School I met with Principal Carol Taylor and Bealiba Mini Pumas Playgroup President Kristy Lee.
The Playgroup received a Great Start Grant last year and used it to purchase wonderful resources as seen in the pictures below.
I discovered another amazing community Bealiba. The school has seven students and 13 children attend the playgroup. This is a community that is so lucky to have these amazing people taking the lead. The school was transformed last year with a renovation that saw white boards replace blackboards and carpet replace lino. The families and children have a place that illustrates the commitment and dedication of the people who create the richness that permeates every action and word.
To finish the trip off I met with the Department of Education in Bendigo and two people from the Early Years Team at the City of Bendigo.
Some reflection after the trip:
1200km’s later I have learnt a lot. I met some incredible people who are the lifeblood of these small, vibrant communities. While I look up to these people and all that they do and can accomplish, I know it is not easy.
While we are doing some innovative and valuable work supporting a broad range of playgroups, we need to develop a better understanding of what we could and should be doing to provide the support playgroups need and want. We have started that process. We are currently undertaking a membership review and developing a reengagement strategy. This includes looking more broadly, ensuring that we are doing everything we can to support families. We want families to have access and the opportunity to participate in playgroup.
Over the coming months we will closely examine our membership and speak with broader stakeholders for input so that what we end up with a system that reflects what playgroups need and want.
Since starting at PV I have been fortunate to visit Playgroups across Victoria and will continue to do that throughout the year. Thank you for sharing with me.