OP-ED: Playgroups Making Life Bear-able for Littlies

Thursday 26 November 2020, The Examiner



This has been a huge year for everyone, but for many of our children, the tumult and troubles have hit harder. It’s difficult at the best of times to adapt to change, but for young people, it’s even more difficult, given their outlook of the world is still forming. More than ever, out children and young families need positivity and even a bit of fun, so they remember, that in the end, everything will be ok.

October 24 to November 1 was National Children’s Week – an annual week celebrated by the attention of the wider community focused on children, their rights and achievements. Children’s Week is all about celebrating the right of children to enjoy childhood. This year’s theme was ‘Children have the right to choose their own friends and safely connect with others’.

Nationally, Children’s Week is organized by the Children’s Week Council of Australia, but in Tasmania, the backbone organisation that takes ownership and responsibility of the themes and activities is Playgroup Tasmania, which does extraordinary work in the community with our families.

This year it was very difficult to organize activities due to COVD-19 and social distancing requirements, but Playgroup Tasmania, Housing Choices Tasmania and all their partner organisations pulled together some very special events, both in person, across the entire state, and online. Usually National Children’s week is marked by the annual Teddy Bear’s Picnic, held in City Park, where you can pack a picnic blanket, favourite teddy bear and enjoy the fun and free activities. These picnics are always so much fun, enjoyed by children from babies to pre-school, parents, carers and often grandparents alike.

This year, due to COVID-19, the focus on was on smaller, locally-based activities, but everyone still had the chance to participate. Among many other things, an at-home scavenger hunt, art competition and teddy bear giving online were real successes. At many locations across Tasmania, movie afternoons, picnics, painting, music and yoga were all available for parents and children to participate in. It was truly a fantastic week, and Playgroup Tasmania did a marvellous job pulling together such wonderful events.

For the other 51 weeks of the year, Playgroup Tasmania does wonderful work at the coalface with our families and children. As a not-for-profit, state-based membership organisation, it relies very strongly on people power to provide support and resources to assist with the establishment, coordination, administration and promotion of playgroups right across Tasmania. It operates with a voluntary board of governance, and a small contingent of staff, including Chief Executive Officer Jacinda Armstrong, who manages play group development officers and administrative staff based in all regions of the state.

As a peak body representing over 35 volunteer-led community playgroups and 15 organisational playgroups, including Child and Family Centres and neighbourhood community houses, it will come as no surprise that each year over 500 families engage with Playgroup Tasmania, with even more attending playgroups each week.

These playgroups have wonderful resources for both parents and kids, such as the Hadspen Playgroup with its amazing range of toys and equipment, crafts and activities, including an on-site community nurse who is available to see walk-ins. If you have young children and haven’t been to playgroup, it is a great way to help your children develop social skills and for mums and dads to chat to other parents and sometimes share concerns.

Playgroup Tasmania also administers a supported playgroup program called Play Connect, providing a soft entry for families with children aged0-6 years who have needs associated with an Autism Spectrum Disorder or developmental delays in communication, behaviour or social skills. No formal diagnosis is required no a referral to attend, but the benefits it offers to parents is not to be understated.

During National Children’s Week, Playgroup Tasmania launched its fabulous new outdoor area at its Holbrook Street facility in Launceston. This playgroup alone services around 80 families each week, providing access to learning, productive and fun play and an opportunity for parents to connect. This facility will also significantly contribute to the wellbeing of our families and provide fantastic opportunities for children’s imagination and creativity. This very impressive redevelopment, which includes new play equipment and flooring, was made possible through a grant from the Tasmanian Community Fund, as well as through the generosity of the Rotary Club of Central Launceston and the WD Booth Trust.

With hard work, making positive connections and with community spirit, incredible initiatives like this can come to fruition. Playgroup Tasmania is a wonderful organisation doing important work in our communities. I encourage every family with young children to take advantage of what is on offer and head to playgroup. It is an impressive local organisation making our communities better and stronger.

Independent Launceston Legislative Councillor

Rosemary Armitage MLC

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