Finding a playgroup that suits both you and your child need not be difficult as Tamara Hunter explains.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again: it’s a mantra we’re taught as children but one we can sometimes forget as adults. In the case of playgroup, it’s a mantra that’s essential to remember.
It can be hard to find a playgroup that suits you and your child. For starters, you may not even know quite what you want before you begin. All you know is your child needs a friend, or needs some stimulation … or you just need to get out of the house. Or you may find one which ticks a lot of your boxes, but you don’t fit in with the people or don’t like the way it’s run.
Playgroup WA chief executive officer David Zarb said it was important to remember that playgroups were a reflection of society and that there were as many kinds of playgroup as there were types of people.
“You are going to get every possible combination of people that you like, don’t like, feel comfortable with, don’t feel comfortable with, people who are different, people who are older,” he said. “I think sometimes people expect when they go to a playgroup that they are all going to be the same and they’ll all be organised the same. It takes a while to figure out, especially if people haven’t been before.”
Similarly, he said the way a playgroup was run was a reflection of the people in the group.
“We often find people complain about the committee or whoever’s running the show and it turns out the person running the show is often doing everything by themselves because no one else wants to,” he said. “That’s the other thing – if you want to get involved in making the decisions, put your hand up.”
He said that when problems arose, before jumping ship it was important to remember the value of communication – often issues could be resolved by speaking up.
“I guess the difficult part is if people feel like they are either not able to talk to other people and raise their concerns, or when they do, they feel they have been rebuffed or their concerns minimised. Remember though – they’re all volunteers. They all have their own kids and own stuff they’re dealing with, and some people are better at it than others. Most of them are sleep deprived and juggling jobs and doing all sorts of things.
“The reason playgroup works for so many people is because you do get that opportunity to understand and realise you are not the only one going through this, and there are solutions. That’s what community is about.”
He said where a playgroup simply wasn’t right for someone, there were plenty of other groups to try. Often people didn’t really know what they wanted out of a playgroup until they tried one out – and it was okay to ‘shop around’ for the right fit.
“You wouldn’t expect to find a hairdresser you’re comfortable with the first time off,” David said. “People shop around for hairdressers, for coffee shops, for doctors, even for schools.”
He said the types of playgroup on offer were endless – it was about thinking about what you wanted out of a playgroup.
“We find a lot of people come to playgroup initially for one of two reasons: one, because they think it’s important that the children meet other children – the socialisation. And two, they want them to have some stimulating activities or they already know each other through being in a mother’s group and they want to keep meeting together. But what we do know over time is that it’s not the children who decide to keep going – the adult has got to feel comfortable.”
His biggest concern was that people would write playgroup off after one negative experience.
“The part that worries us is they try playgroup once, they didn’t like the group they visited for whatever reason, and they write it off as a possibility altogether without ever realising or experiencing that there are so many different types of playgroups and people involved and facilities around the place. There will be a playgroup that they will like. Our task is to make sure they don’t fall into that trap. We want to make sure people know these options are out there. No matter what issue you may have, there’s a playgroup that’s okay for you.”
He said if what was already on offer just wasn’t suitable, the easiest option was to create another session at an existing playgroup.
“If you can’t start another session, or there’s no venue available, all you need is three families and you can start your own playgroup. We have a ‘How to start a playgroup’ kit that we will send people and we are quite happy to help people get started.”
He encouraged people with questions about particular playgroups to use the contact details on the PGWA website.
You can find your closest playgroup here.