Come together one and all

Selandra Playgroup

Melbourne is a sprawling metropolis, and this is no more apparent than the drive from the inner city to the outer fringes of Clyde North. Over the course of seven years, Leanne Dhami has watched her local area transform. Farmland has disappeared to make way for more houses. New estates have been popping up like new growth during spring. New kinders and schools have sprung up, too.

It is easy to see why families exchange their inner-city lifestyle for a life a little more far flung. Green spaces are not too far away, shops are close by and many families are able to walk to kinder, school and playgroup.

Out here, families are given the chance at living the Australia dream- that is owning a large house with a backyard.

“The up and expanding infrastructure allows families to have the best of both worlds,” observes Leanne. “Working in metro Melbourne yet still having space for kids.”

Within the newness of it all, Leanne strives to make families feel connected and to find a sense of home.

“It is vital for new families to know they have somewhere to go to be part of the community.”

“At Selandra Community Hub everyone is welcome, everyone is encouraged to have input and despite different cultures, back grounds and beliefs, everyone is respected and is valued as part of the community.”

Leanne has been working for Playgroup Victoria for six years. A large part of that time has been dedicated to building up the South East region. The night before playgroup, Leanne stayed up long after her children had gone to bed, laminating activities and making play dough for the following day. She invests a great deal in the outcomes of the families that walk through the front door.

“I consider playgroups to be the backbone of communities.”

“They provide a space for like-minded families to come together, learn from each other and most of all, support each other on their journey of raising children.”

A vibrant group of people gather on this playgroup morning at the beginning of July, in celebration of family, culture, community and camaraderie.

Selandra Community Hub is the central meeting spot for many in this area.

“This space is important as there is a lack in other places for community to be,” said Leanne.

The modern building is only a few years old. It was needed as the City of Casey is such a fast-growing area. It is fitted out with large, light filled rooms, comfy colourful chairs and a large round table that promotes togetherness. The minimalistic style invites the children and teachers to fill the space with creativity and flair.

Leanne and a fellow colleague Mylie Nauendorf spent an hour thoughtfully setting up varied play spaces. One area encourages imaginative, make-believe role playing, another enables children with energy to burn to move, jump and practice their fine and gross motor skills. A separate zone is for experimental Science activities.

“What a space!” exclaimed Mylie. Mylie loves to connect with playgroups at a local level.

“It is wonderful that the people in the area can walk through a door and potentially experience something new – for free.”

“It's hard to bottle up the feeling you get when you witness, and are part of, the transformation of a big empty room into a space for play, connection and fun.”

They both remark how positive the atmosphere is and happily chat to parents, getting to know them at a deeper level as the morning and the weeks roll on.

The room is full of different experiences and stories.

“It’s so reassuring to know that we all have challenges, we all have highs and lows and at playgroup we can all be there for each other,” said Leanne.

“Playgroup helps me gain a bit of perspective back in my life, that my family and mental health are the most important thing.”

One Dad makes his way over here on his mornings off, bringing his first-born son along.

“It is really good for kids to have that exposure with other kids, they learn quite a lot. The socialisation with other kids, sharing with other kids.”

Beyond his son enjoying the social interactions, on a personal level, he has found it worthwhile.

“It is good to talk to other parents and share some experiences.”

“It’s really hard nowadays because both of us are working with a mortgage and everything, plus the bills. It is really hard, but we have to do the best people we can be as parents with responsibility at the same time.”

Fiona Sanderson is a local mother who has brought along her children for the first time.

“It’s nice to be able to have somewhere where I know that they are safe, there’s things that are age appropriate for them to do, they can engage with other children.”

Fiona is a kindergarten teacher in the City of Casey. She is getting to know the Selandra Community Hub well in her new role as a playgroup facilitator.

“I came down and had a look and really liked what I saw. I thought ‘I can do this, I can bring some of what I know from the kindergarten space into the playgroup space’. It’s been a really wonderful opportunity.”

“Having a playgroup in a space like this where we have a hub is really important.”

Fiona said that she quickly recognised how vital this place is for many families in the area.

“A variety of families are coming in, lots of new parents are coming in all the time as well. It’s not just parents but it is grandparents bringing in the children, too.”

“There is a need to have these programs running so that people can come together and develop friendships, support networks and the children can play and engage.”

“Having things within walking distance from where a lot of the families live. It is great that this is here and them not needing to have that mode of transport.”

Playgroup runs at the hub twice a week, on Wednesday and Thursday mornings.

“Everyone brings their own something to the group,” said Fiona.

“It is a really diverse community, everyone is really friendly and welcoming, happy and the kids like to come in and have a play. It is a really important space for families to come together.”

Leanne finds it rewarding to return each week and find friendships blooming.

“Playgroup allows and encourages people to be themselves, to feel comfortable and enjoy time with their children.”

“For many parents that may be a stay at home parent, Playgroup gives them time to meet other parents and have adult conversations, get advice and feel part of the community.”

As a mother of two, Leanne strongly resonates with the other parents and carers she meets.

“Playgroup helps me by having dedicated time with my children. In my busy life I don't often make time to just play with my children and time to talk with other parents.”

“Bonding time is the most valuable thing between a parent and child. At Playgroup Victoria we truly believe that parents are the child’s first and most enduring educator, as a professional, but mainly as a mum I believe that.”

“Spending bonding time together supports a family to feel connected to each other and the world around them, it supports a sense of belonging, it promotes good, healthy, respectful communication, builds a strong foundation and honest relationship for the future, supports their learning, promotes confidence and positive sense of self and self-worth.”

With all that comes with change, finding something reliable and comforting is vital in our lives. Playgroup provides this reassurance in lots of ways. Each Wednesday and Thursday, the hub is here, the rooms are warm and inviting, there are people to listen and places to play. Sometimes, that is all we all need. Someone to talk to, a place to rest and room to play.

Article by Sinead Halliday