Playgroup of the Month 2017


November Playgroup of the Month 

 Playbox Playgroup Box Hill

Learning through the ages

Young people often hear they need more experience in the workforce. To gather experience, there needs to be opportunity to connect with the subject. There needs to be time. In any role, people need time to adjust, settle, learn and practice. At Box Hill Institute there is a haven where opportunities to learn and play are plentiful as children and students come together to develop, learn and bond at Playbox playgroup.

The playgroup is nestled up above the concrete jungle of Box Hill, where trams trundle by and people rush to class or to the nearby shops or hospital, heads full of thoughts. This playgroup held on the third story of an 80’s brick building provides repose from the hustle and bustle of the outside world that is inner suburbia.

Playbox is a new playgroup and Darren Varley played a leading role in getting it up and running.

"Darren has really shepherded this playgroup. The playgroup has been a decade in the making. It is a real labour of love, a long-held dream,” said Playgroup Engagement Manager, Justine Jones.

With over 20 years of experience working in the early years field, Darren persevered with his idea about interactive training, incorporating hands-on schooling, onsite. Prior to that, students were practicing with dummies.

“The students were given dolls to practice on, and they were asked to put a nappy on the doll and other such things- it was not real,” said Justine.

This imitative, make-believe environment prepared the students, yet it did not match the reality. The subtleties of human touch, facial expression, and interaction cannot be replicated. The nuances that the students observe and learn about in detail are invaluable when they move forward, and situations arise where authentic expertise is required.

The playgroup has been in a trial phase to see how it would work, particularly to establish the teacher and student outcomes. The faculty got the green light for this semester to see how it goes. So far, the positives are strong. Darren is buoyed by this.

“It is a really good learning tool for us and for the teachers too because they can use examples from the playgroup and refer back to them.”

“From a teaching perspective, it is great for the students to be assessed in the playgroup environment.”

Darren saw the potential early on for a playgroup.

“We have that point of different in the TAFE community, having those different resources. We have a few more strings to our bow I guess, given we are not an ordinarily run playgroup.”

“We are in a unique situation being a training organisation. The parents that use this service have access to a wealth of Early Childhood knowledge and resources. Our teaching staff have over 100 years of combined experience in the field. Parents have tapped into this with various questions around sleep and settling, routine, food choices and general developmental information. Add to that our students also play an active part in the playgroup sessions. Parents see our program as value added playgroup that perhaps others cannot,” said Darren.

Justine echoes Darren’s thinking as she observes how the Box Hill Institute enhances the playgroup with their resources and education.

“This playgroup gives families access to people who have the most up-to-date information and are ready to bring it into practice,” said Justine.

Two to three students are assigned to each playgroup session. Darren said that they have already seen the benefit of the social interaction. The students are enriched with the parental aspect of the equation, too.

“In the playgroup the students have a direct and ongoing link to the parents without too much restriction so that they can engage freely with them and build connections.”

Justine describes the relaxed atmosphere as parents chat happily while their children play freely.

“Some families come from backgrounds where free play is not valued as highly as formal learning. The importance of play is illustrated and valued in the playgroup space.”

Early childhood teachers and Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care students have chosen to work in this field because they enjoy the early years. At Playbox playgroup they are encouraged to engage and to learn, as are the children, parents and carers- and most importantly, everyone is encouraged to enjoy themselves. From a mental health perspective, the playgroup throws a wonderful radiance across the community, regardless of age.

Darren also notes that this program helps students who are struggling to attain confidence in a supported environment. Once again, this applies to the children and parents, too. The space allows growth and with time, beautiful blooming.

Justine speaks of the trees outside the playgroup window up on the third story. Green as far as the eye can see. A tree house of sorts. There is no outdoor area, but the outdoor space is welcomed in. This training facility is not an unharnessed workplace, but it still allows everyone to experience all the senses as they peer out at the trees, imagine, dream, play and develop together, throughout the changing of the leaves.

Article by Sinead Halliday

October Playgroup of the Month 

Gumnuts Playgroup Malvern

The natural goodness of Gumnuts playgroup

Spring flowers tumble unruly over the pavement. Children skip and race by, allowing the fragrance and the morning sunshine to wash over them. Two friendly faces wave over the fence. 100 metres down the road, a bustling streetscape hurries by, but a few doors down, there is a peaceful calm. Throughout the morning, little feet patter into Gumnuts playgroup. The time flies by as the children busily potter about, playing. Trees line the front fence, throwing dappled shade across the outdoor area. A quaint cubby house resides in the corner, inviting the children to play make believe and mimic their Mums and Dads, developing many skills as they do so.   

“Gumnuts has been set up to provide a natural indoor and outdoor space, which resonates so brightly with the Australian way of life,” said playgroup President Anna Volaris.

Anna considers her involvement at Gumnuts playgroup as somewhat serendipitous. After a long chat with her maternal health nurse and then committee member Alice, followed by a tour around the light filled space, Anna knew it was the place for her family.

“As evidenced by my son’s tears when it was time to leave – each and every time (bless him).”

The families gather at Gumnuts, exchanging stories and niceties as the children explore and chitter chatter amongst themselves.

“It’s just lovely to watch your children play as you sip your coffee and relax with the other mums after a long night.”

It is a simple get together, but the listening, learning and loving is manifold.

There is a naturalness to Gumnuts. As the title suggests, there is an Australian sentiment entwined in the philosophy and the environment plays a big role in the playgroups existence. The toys at Gumnuts are either made of natural wood or recycled materials. They have been kindly donated by member families, Jane and her team at the neighbouring Stonnington Toy Library, fundraising activities and government grants via the local member, Kelly O'Dwyer's, office. 

“This is important as it underpins our mission to provide as natural environment as possible for our member families as a foundation for curious, creative, independent play and experimental learning– from a shed full of fun ride on toys which improve balance and coordination, to a cubby house to encourage role play and imagination and from there we build on children’s social skills through collaboration, communication, sharing and empathy.”

Gumnuts also provides a generous selection of art supplies for the budding artists among the group. Art Play is hosted by committee member Fiona on a regular basis. On this particular morning it is messy play day. It is utterly refreshing to see the children revel in the mess without restraint. Anna happily chats on to other parents as her son presses his paint covered hands onto her jeans. It is no big deal. Anna is carefree. It all comes out in the wash. For now, it is complete merrymaking, in its most pure sense.

There is no fuss as the playgroup morning draws to a close. The members thoughtfully help to tidy the area together. There is no stress about the piles of toys or the paint on the concrete because it is not the sole responsibility of one person. Here at playgroup, there is a shared empathy and understanding. There is shared knowledge of the hard work and toil that goes on in the home with small children, but at playgroup it is a different atmosphere. Parents are encouraged to leave their worries about the washing and to-do lists at the door. The children have a wonderful ability to pull the parents into the present in this setting. Everyone is allowed to let go a little bit and to simply enjoy their time together during these few precious hours in the working week.

The playgroup is allocated the lovely space by the council within the Winter Street Community Centre. Anna observes that her members often acknowledge this and in turn show their gratitude by maintaining the premises and cleaning up after their use in such a thoughtful manner for the next member.

“Gumnuts playgroup is a thoughtful and empathetic community that functions well and I have no doubt this spirit is reinforced by little eyes and ears observing this.”

The parents and carers are leading by example, teaching the children and rewarding their gestures of kindness.

“My sense is that there is a kinship and sense of community that is shared amongst parents and carers that is observed and then emulated by our children through their play and the way they interact with each other. This is the best barometer for gauging whether we as mums are doing a great job – that we are raising kind and considerate children that will then grow up to be kind and decent people who treat each other respectfully.”

Many grandparents are beginning to join playgroup and Anna is a huge advocate. It is not a new concept; many countries dotted around the world raise a child in the village type idiom but in Australia it has not always been the way. Increasingly, grandparents are looking after their grandchildren. Anna said that she loves to see the grandparents participating in the playgroup, often when the Mums and Dads are at work. Interestingly, English is the second language for many grandparents in Melbourne. Anna takes great care to ensure that all families feel welcome. She felt spurned on to establish diverse cultural groups. Playgroup allows this sense of community to grow.

“Playgroup is an important community convener for all families and extended families in the modern world, in particular for grandparents. In Greece, they have a saying that grandchildren are your children twice over, which reinforces the abundance of love that grandparents feel for their child’s child. It also illuminates the fact that grandparents have much more to offer families and the community by being a major provider of childcare for working parents.”

“I can almost feel their sense of pride as they watch their children talking in English to other children and then coach them in their native language. I quickly learned that ‘meme’ is little sister in Chinese as they implore their grandchild to let meme have a turn of the rocking horse, as my enthusiastic one year old daughter makes a bee line for the toy. This is just one example (but my favourite) in what I have experienced with how playgroup helps and cares for families in the modern world.”

In addition, Anna outstretches her reach, welcoming people into the little Gumnuts village. Providing a source of information for families new to the area and/or Australia Anna is working with a number of cultural groups, such as Chinese, Indian, Greek and Spanish to date, to establish weekly cultural group sessions in order to convene family members who have recently arrived to Australia from the same country and wish to meet other families from their cultural group.

Anna is hoping to establish annual Chinese New Year celebrations, Indian Diwali or South American Carnival, for example, where all of the children can learn about the meaning of the cultural event, dress up and participate in these cultural festivities.

“Playgroup has played an important role for my family, post-mother’s group and pre-school years, in keeping us connected with other local families in our community who are experiencing a similar life stage to us. Playgroup is a wonderful convener for parents and carers who can get to know each other, obtain or offer support to each other as our children play together in a safe, community environment.”

The children happily depart, the outside world welcoming their stories as they go. The land beyond the front gate is full of wonder and fun. As they turn their faces up to their parents and grandparents, the happiness is shared, in all of its delicacy, boldness and beauty.

 “I am so honoured to be a part of this rich community spirit of parents, carers and volunteers,” said Anna.

Article by Sinead Halliday

September Playgroup of the Month 

Bright Wild ThingsPlaygroup 

Reconnecting with the great outdoors

Spring is beginning to dawn in the north-eastern corner of Victoria. The rhododendrons are beginning to bloom in vibrant hues of fuchsia, as are the delicate blossoms in confetti-like pastel pinks. The green buds high up in the tree tops have been soaking up the sun rays as their roots absorb the rain. Children are busily exploring the growth of the new season. Bright Wild Things Playgroup are noticing the change, a tad more than most. Together they embark on weekly adventures in and around their natural reserve. There is something about the fresh air. It is good for you. Out here the kids do not stop for mud or puddles or frost. They see, they hear, they listen. They adapt as they go. They are in the moment; Mother Nature guiding them through the land.  

Merryn Steer is grateful to be part of the wonderful little community of Bright.

“We are very spoilt by our natural environment, being surrounded by beautiful bushland, mountains and creeks to splash in.”

Nestled at the foothills of Mount Hotham and the Alpine National Park, Bright experiences seasonal change with distinction. Bitter cold in the wintertime and sometimes severely hot in the summertime. Bushfires are always a hovering risk when the weather heats up and the winds pick up. The ice melts from the top of the mountains and flows down into the streams, creeks and rivers. A swim in the summer is refreshing, to say the least.

Merryn is the leader of Bright Wild Things Playgroup, our Playgroup of the Month.

“We get to encourage a healthy, carefree childhood (and adulthood!) amongst friendly, supportive families.”

“We enjoy beautiful spaces in the outdoors and meet new families that have moved to town. Our sessions are relaxed and the fact that we meet outside, go for a short walk in a group to a safe spot for morning tea and a play, means there is plenty of opportunity to talk to different people in an unintimidating and supportive environment.”

“We get lots of dads attending as well as mums, and I'm so pleased that dad's feel comfortable coming to our playgroup.”

Time has shown that nature has a way of making people feel comfortable; comfortable in their own skin and comfortable to speak freely to the wind. American Author Donald Miller said, “All the trees are losing their leaves and not one of them is worried.” Customary worries can lose potency in nature and diminish, falling slowly like leaves in the breeze. The day may bring many forms of change, and yet, there is rhythm and there is calm.

“There are many studies to prove that nature is good for our mental health, having a calming and uplifting effect on moods,” said Merryn.

“Even on rainy days when it seems easier to stay inside, once we are out with our rain gear on walking amongst the trees and stepping through the puddles it makes both myself and my children (and the others that come to Bright Wild Things) feel so much happier and calmer and energised.”

Merryn sees the developmental benefits extended to the children as they play.

“They develop fine motor skills from picking up seeds, gross motor skills from walking on uneven ground, jumping like a kangaroo or balancing on logs. They use their senses, smell the gum leaves, touch rough bark or smooth rocks, feel cold creek water on their feet, listen to birds or frogs, look at little bugs up close or tall trees up high. They learn new words, learn when to touch or not (earth worms or ants) and how to look after our environment (picking up rubbish). The list is endless!”

Merryn notes the children’s ability to assess risk and develop creativity, such as using a stick as a fishing rod, chainsaw, whipper snipper etc. She said that the children gain confidence in themselves as they jump off stumps or balance on logs.

“They increase their immune systems by playing in the dirt and they develop a sense of connection with the environment.” 

Claire Mackinlay is part of the Wild Things Playgroup in Kiewa. She said that it is fantastic to see how much it has grown.

“When Wild Things began, I had a very active two-year-old boy, four-year-old girl and a new-born baby. I wanted the older two to run wild but found it difficult to take them out bushwalking etc because I simply didn’t have enough pairs of hands and I didn’t really know where the appropriate places to go were. Wild Things allowed us to all get out there because other parents were always willing to help each other out and Jarrod always chose safe trails and places to hike, paddle, play etc. Every week I learnt fantastic new walks, swimming holes etc.”

Claire’s backyard extends to rivers, mountain bike trails and the ski fields, making for a very healthy lifestyle.

“I grew up in rural Victoria, we free-ranged it around town and in the paddocks. We were outside seeking adventures from morning until dark, it was a fun and happy existence.”

Claire’s husband grew up in the country too and a love of nature is something they hope to instil in their children.

“I hope that they wake up in the morning and the first thing they do is look out the window and contemplate how they are going to organise their day so they can get out there, I think Wild Things is the beginning of this.”

While the beginnings of Wild Things were but faint footprints on the land, there were some bigger footprints leaving marks for others to follow. Jarrod Paine is the founder of the BushPlay Project Guide, designed specifically for playgroup aged children and their families. Jarrod first pathed the way for this initiative when his children were very young.

Put simply, Jarrod said that Wild Things provides a further platform for families to spend time together and in a different setting.

“The outdoors by its very nature promotes openness in observation and in reflection. With this it encourages families to discuss important parenting challenges while getting fingernails dirty and making rock towers with their children. The importance to ours and any community is having yet another avenue for families to feel comfortable spending time with other families in a safe and supportive atmosphere. The more settings a community has to provide the healthier the community.”

Jarrod also understands that Wild Things is important to future proof our community’s connection with nature and the great outdoors.

“Starting a positive relationship with nature, role modelled by our trusted mentors, engages children early and will hopefully lead to lifelong environmental stewardship and understanding of the interconnectedness of everything.”

Jarrod will have one more year leading Kiewa Wild Things while he has a pre-school age child. He said, “it will conclude a glorious time in my life where I have been privileged enough to lead so many children and their families into their beginning of a lifelong nature relationship.”

To ensure the continuing of the group in the community Jarrod has begun to mentor more leaders, and has authored Wild Things Leaders Guides and location guides for many of the locations they have visited.

Playgroup Development Adviser, Justine Jones, visited Bright Wild Things and was amazed by the 16 families who showed up. She basked in the winter sun watching on as the relaxed group chattered and the children jumped in the puddles.

“It’s natural for kids to love nature. A leaf with ants is a miniature world, a flower is an earring, a puddle a mirror.”

Justine could see how beneficial bush play was for all involved.

“It is simple, nurturing and open-ended play! It allows young minds to ponder, wonder and experience in a sensory way the world around them. Children make sense of their world by smelling, feeling, seeing and hearing and tasting - and then deciphering these messages to form meaning. You can’t do that on an iPad!”

It is different to an iPad, no doubt. As technological advancement sweeps through our homes and the education sector, bush play let’s these kids, just be kids. There is balance. Justine uses the word stable and happy to describe what it gives and what we gain.

“There is a different location each time, regardless of weather and the families can move at their own pace and explore their connection to each other and the peaceful surroundings. The playgroup leader is welcoming, relaxed and informative. The structure is minimal and everyone enjoyed themselves so much.”

For Justine, Jarrod’s BushPlay Guide was an invaluable resource for parents, who may be unsure about the dangers or hazards of going bush with their young children. The Guide is now freely available to all Playgroup Victoria members, but stretches beyond that. The aim is to encourage families to explore the great outdoors, to observe, to play and to be together.

Jarrod borrows a phrase from the Onceler in Dr Seuss’ 'The Lorax':

“I hope for Wild things Playgroups to keep biggering and biggering and biggering, but in a way the Lorax would be happy with. The more Wild Things groups we can create, the more children and families we can expose to the curiosity and awe inspiring place that is outdoors; and we know that this is important for developing connections and then caring for natural spaces and understanding our place in it.”

There is a shared understanding between Jarrod, Merryn and Claire. They understand that we share our lives with a bigger force that gives our lives meaning. Small bugs and subtle undergrowth all contribute to the natural cycle of life, of which we are not merely a bystander; we impact its survival, just as it impacts ours.


August Playgroup of the Month 

Dimboola Playgroup 

No matter the weather

Just before the Wimmera meets the Mallee, resting on the edge of the Little Desert, is the township of Dimboola. The 1000 townsfolk are widespread across the land that sprawls Victoria’s Western outskirts. Wheat grows the colour of dusty gold out there. The agricultural region was barren for a time, enduring years of parched drought. What would come in the years that followed was heavy rain. Downpours. The Wimmera River rose and the creeks cascaded up and over the banks. The once suffocated farmland was now a swampy bog. Soaked like wet wool that takes a long while to dry.

There was resilience hovering on the outskirts, though.

Many Dimboola locals have lived in the region for generations, their roots loyally laid. The population is mostly aging now, but sprouts of young growth jut out of the now hydrated soil and look determined to grow.

Hannah Young is the mother of two young children. She said that the Dimboola playgroup is providing a valuable and worthwhile service to the families in her town. 

“Being the parent of a young child can sometimes be an emotionally isolating experience and our location means that we are also geographically isolated from many services and opportunities that people in larger towns and cities have access to.”

The Monash Medical Model is a relatively recent tool used to assess disadvantage in the allocation of health resources and on a scale of 1-7 (with 7 being the most disadvantaged), Dimboola comes in at 5.

In spite of this, Dimboola is buoyant.

Hannah said any shortcomings prompt the drive and the desire to offer a meaningful, engaging, challenging and safe playgroup for Dimboola. 

“Since our re-launch in 2015, as a committee and a service we have continued to go from strength to strength."

2017 is shaping up to be their most successful year yet.

The African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is readily sought. Hannah is making efforts to further build social connection. Lending a hand. Sharing hardships and lessening the gloomy clouds that can hover.

A regular barbeque has been a wonderful tool to gather the community in an informal setting; a relaxed place for adults to shoot the breeze while the children play. The informal approach is a less intimidating way of encouraging new people to join playgroup.

Alongside steady improvements to re-energise the playgroup environment with renovations and revamps, new ideas of connectivity have inspired.

The playgroup runs regular excursions to the local nursing home, which is of huge benefit to the livelihoods of both young and old.

“The benefits of intergenerational relationships between children and the elderly are well documented and we believe that this experience helps to alleviate the isolation and loneliness that can be associated with living in supported care whilst also providing the children with a new experience and is something that we all look forward to,” said Hannah.

Small alterations have been made. Alterations that contribute to the colour and features woven through the fabric of the community. There is bonding. There is warmth. 

Regular family fun days with a focus on education surrounding literacy and healthy eating creates positive notions that families share.

The playgroup is trying to strike a balance, providing educational services while not preaching or pushing commitment. Hannah hopes that people just want to come, naturally.

So far, this seems to be the case.

“This year we have listened to the wishes of our current and prospective families and are now offering three sessions a week including our usual time which runs concurrently with our local Maternal and Child Health nurse’s visiting times.”

The playgroup has also included an early morning session to allow for parents to drop older children at school or kinder and then attend a session and an afternoon session for babies under one in response to a local baby boom.

There is flexibility.

Hannah said that this variety enables more people to attend at least one session a week and/or attend with a friend to build their confidence and enhance their experience of playgroup. 

“We are building on this to include sessions from other allied health professionals such as a podiatrist and a dietician in the upcoming months which we think will be really helpful to provide our parents with information they may not otherwise have access to.”

And the best bit? A cubby house is being built. A multi-level cubby house and a fort!

The money was raised thanks to the local community and, Hannah said, the tenacity of the committee. 

These hardworking parents are not just building a playground of dreams for their children, they are making their town homely. They have endured the elements, the drought, the flooding rains. It can be challenging, but at the end of the day, living in rural parts of Australia is worth more than any one thing. It is about the beautiful landscape, the wonders of nature and- the people.

“Turning up to playgroup was the best decision I've made as a parent,” said Hannah.

Guaranteed, if you need a hand, someone from playgroup will turn up. In your hour of need, those friendships endure all types of weather.

July Playgroup of the Month 

Bubup Fresh Mum's Playgroup

Kindly Caring

Across from a line of tall palm trees and neatly manicured grass is Bubup Womindjeka Family and Children’s Centre. There is a feel that the beach is close by, despite the proximity to the CBD throwing shadows off the tall buildings in the distance. It is a cool winter’s day in Melbourne, overcast and blasé, but as soon as you step foot inside of Bubup, genuine warmth unfurls.  

The translation of the Indigenous name Bubup Womindjeka rings true. ‘Welcome children’ is the meaning.

Gia Ban Huynh is the mother hen of the group, wrapping her outstretched wings around all of the little chicks. The children flock to her and it is clear that there is established trust.

Gia turns to say, “It is like a family here.”

Easily so, Gia kindly rushes to the door to welcome everyone. She is very hospitable and generous with her time.

Gia has been at Bubup for three years and has been working as the coordinator for nine months. It is apparent that she has had a hand in shaping the energetic playgroup flourishing today.

Leanne Dhami from Playgroup Victoria has interacted often with Gia in her role as a Playgroup Developer.

“She is just one of those people who cares,” Leanne said.

“I think she is incredible for what she does. She wants the best for the families.”

“The group and the coordinator are an asset to the local community. They are inclusive and offer a range of wonderful learning opportunities for parents.”

“It is refreshing.”

Refreshing is the word for Gia. There is something rather playful and childlike about her, but with a maturity. She relates well to the children, while still offering great guidance and care.

“I have a saying,” she says, beaming.

“‘Enter as strangers and leave as friends.”

Gia goes above and beyond, organising events for the playgroups. On this Thursday morning, a talented puppeteer has the children captivated. They rush forward to hug ‘Lily Monster’ puppet, but are a little unsure when a big lion appears. Their worries soon abate when the lion starts to sing, “In the jungle, the mighty jungle the lion sleeps tonight. A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh.”

 The children and adults alike are all having a wonderful time.

The playgroup is a hive of activity. Children are scattered, talking, playing and singing while Mother’s happily congregate, joining in with their kids.

“Soon a chef is coming in and in a few weeks a lady is coming in to talk about toilet training. I love inviting special guests in and seeing how everyone enjoys it,” Gia said as she whirls by, preparing snacks.

Fun and educational, it would seem.

“It is an amazing place,” Mother Saidi Dahdah said.

“We all help each other and it is so nice to interact with other adults. We spend time together afterwards and I am grateful to have found this place.”

 After moving from Northcote to Port Melbourne Saidi said that it helped her so much when transitioning to a new area.

"I am so glad it exists.”

“I think it would be really lonely if there weren’t playgroups,” Saidi said sincerely.

“We are a really close playgroup, really close knit.”

This playgroup is having dual effects. It is enabling local people to connect person-to-person while helping children learn and develop. The benefits are wide ranging.  Behind the façade, people are forging relationships, supporting one another, gaining knowledge and investing in their community.

There is great spirit at Bubup Womindjeka.

With the advent of technology, many families are becoming isolated. Despite the direct link that the online realm extends to us as users, it can also impede on real life, that is authentic, face-to-face human interaction. Technology can help us withdraw from society, because there is a different society on social media to join. That does not eliminate the crucial need for us to be together, in real time. This playgroup allows people to experience child rearing together. The parents are able to relate and share stories, and Gia, she is consistent. She is the mother hen, watching over her chicks. She is the organiser that makes it easy to turn up to playgroup. Lives are changed by small gestures and small efforts extended to others at Bubup.

We award Gia and Bubup Fresh Mum’s and Bubs as our Playgroup of the Month. There is more that goes on than people know. We would like to acknowledge this terrific community playgroup!

Article by Sinead Halliday

June Playgroup of the Month 

Avondale Heights Grandparents Playgroup

Generational Gifts

If there is any anecdote to aging, it may be returning to a source of youth; readjusting our purpose in the turning chapters of life. For many grandparents, caring for their grandchildren is a joy that continues to give them meaning. Young children are good at reminding us of innocence and in many ways, simplicity. Children have the knack of erasing the complexities that swarm the grownup world. They bring us back to the present, connecting.

In the modern world, grandparents are adopting the primary carer’s role as traditional parental duties are modified to suit contemporary living. Often families require greater incomes, careers are of importance and naturally, the moulding of family life has been reshaped through the course of time.

Elizabeth Vescio is part of a very popular grandparent’s playgroup in Avondale Heights. It is so well loved that there has been a waiting list for some time. She said that she loves every minute she now gets to spend with her grandchildren.

"The love and hugs I get in return are priceless."

Elizabeth was still working part time when her children had children of their own and in the end, she chose to spend more time with them than time spent in the working world. Young children are adept at gently letting the grand worries of life drift downstream and for Elizabeth, and many like her, her grandchildren have transformed her daily existence. Her grandchildren have encouraged her to slow down and smell the roses.

"My Grandchildren have taught me patience, they have given me the opportunity to do with them things that I was unable to do with my own children."

As Elizabeth soon found out, playgroup gave her an added dimension of learning and drive, all the while exercising her mind. 

"After working for so many years, becoming a playgroup leader has enabled me to still keep my mind active, researching and organising activities, fundraisers and liaising with both MVCC and Playgroup Victoria to make sure we provide a safe and happy enjoyable environment for all our members."

At first a mentor, Elizabeth soon jumped ahead, with ideas and enthusiasm to contribute in bucket loads. As time has trundled by, the playgroup has become a cornerstone of the local community, proving an enriching source of companionship and meaning for many grandparents in the area, and in surrounding suburbs.   

"From my experience at playgroup, all the grandparents that care for their grandchildren, whether it be for a couple of hours, a few days or all week, they do it for the love of their grandchildren and it is their choice, while at times it can be tiring they give you the energy to keep going." 

"Most say their children are grateful for what they do and make themselves flexible to take days off if they can't for whatever reason be available to look after the grandchildren for any reason, whether it is due to illness or for a vacation. I know my children do."

Avondale Heights has made an impact. It continues to grow.

"This Playgroup has been extremely successful and our numbers grew quickly, we have both grandmothers and grandfathers who attend as some grandfathers are caring for the children because the wife is still working."

After so many years, playgroup is still an important part of communities, it is part of the fabric that forms a patchwork of people and cultures, of varying ages, backgrounds and ambitions.

"I believe community playgroups are important as they provide a safe and enjoyable environment giving the children a place to socialise, learn and play together, preparing them for kinder and school and at the same time it gives their carers somewhere to spend a couple of hours a week sharing their experiences and supporting each other at times when they could otherwise become isolated from the community."

While it is helping her grandchildren, it has also given Elizabeth opportunities to meet other grandparents doing the same as she is. The grandparents have become friends, they share stories and support one another.

Our Playgroup of the Month demonstrates that generational connections are profoundly valuable. It has shown that in the course of life, there is much that can be shared between the ages. Grandparents have great insight, wisdom, experience and care to give, and grandchildren bring so much unrestrained love, reliance, curiosity, learning and affection.

As the years drift by, people fondly remember old memories and wonder why they stopped doing certain things that they once loved. Grandchildren can take their grandparents by the hand and together they embrace the freedom and imagination of play once more.    

Article by Sinead Halliday

May Playgroup of the Month

Buddha Hands Playgroup

Playing Freely

There is a natural rhythm within Buddha Hands playgroup. With roots buried in ancient philosophies and a focus on Waldorf learning, a unique space has been created for local families in Warragul.

A path of self-learning is journeyed at Buddha Hands. Children are encouraged to follow their own compass; to meander, experiment and explore.

The group demonstrates that learning does not have to be rigid, but is more fluid in nature; an ever moving force that we travel and traverse throughout our lives.

Buddha Hands founder, Sylvia Dardha, researched Waldorf and Montessori based ideas and concepts. She explored 
Reggio Emilia and investigated all sorts of alternative play based philosophies for two years. 

“It was really important to firstly base the idea on an open hearted and non-judgemental space for families to come together. The other aspect was incorporating basic Buddhist concepts and Steiner based concepts- from how we delivered activities or songs to the type of toys and playing environment we offered.”

Sylvia said that Waldorf education is about learning by example.

“Instead of giving the child games, puzzles and toys, Waldorf encourages play in everyday chores; mimicking hanging clothes, or washing dishes, maybe putting the baby down for a sleep- all these things are play and in play is the learning."

Sylvia said that children are encouraged to play in their own way.

“We offer them something and they take off with it, in their way. The exposure to positive activities like yoga or singing, not all children care for it, but it is there and it becomes practices they are familiar with." 

"This is a lifelong mindset that can stay with them; being loving and tolerant human beings. And this is where all of the philosophies mesh together, creating confident, loving, kind, happy individuals and they are doing it with others, not just as a home practice."

Playgroup Victoria’s Marketing and Communications Coordinator Samantha Yan nominated Buddha Hands for Playgroup of the Month after watching them blossom over 13 months.

Samantha liked that they had their own style and that they took pride in their playgroup.

Samantha noticed that they have a different parent/child relationship due to their philosophies. Positivity shone from the group.

“Buddha Hands are a very unique playgroup, honouring the philosophy that they believe in, such as meditation,” said Samantha.

“Their messy play event is a great example of their spontaneous way of teaching, highlighting early developmental learning outcomes, such as sensory play and active motor skills, while letting the children play freely.”

Buddha Hands enjoy a bit of mess and they like giving children the freedom to play without restrictions. 
In the modern world that we live in, Buddha Hands encourages trust. Sylvia believes that children need to be given more trust.

“More time and guidance allows children to make a choice that is beneficial for themselves and for others- and trusting them to do that.”

“Our general way of life is so fast paced, so children are rushed and choices are taken away from them, because we have to ‘do it’ quickly. It doesn’t leave room for children to learn how to make beneficial choices.”

The African notion of, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is upheld at Buddha Hands. A special community space where ‘Cultivating Kindness’ is at the fore, enables a freedom and continuity.

Sylvia stresses how important free play is for young children, and for their parents too.

“It is nourishing for the child and really gives opportunities for parents to be so much more present with their child and get out of their heads, that are usually full of well-meaning advice and instruction." 

"Buddha Hands is very much moving into the unschooling realm and we have a few homeschooling and unschooling families who gel with our free play approach."

Interestingly Buddha Hands are very much engaged in the technological realm online.

They have a catalogue of beautiful photography which tell great stories.

How does this tie in with their natural methods you may wonder?

“My partner and I are photographers and artists, so sending the message about Buddha Hands naturally for me, had to be visually pleasing and creative, as well as it being an easy way for me to communicate with others,” said Sylvia.

Sylvia said it is a passion for her, and she hopes that people gain an understanding of what Buddha Hands represents and what it is like to join in, just from browsing through their Instagram photographs.

A lot of the meaning underpinning Buddha Hands philosophy is derived from kindness.

“Kindness to me is simply compassion, the action of compassion,” said Sylvia.

“You can have compassionate thought, but then kindness is the gesture we make in the real world.”

When asked what she treasures about her playgroup sessions, Sylvia’s answer comes back to playing freely.

“It is actually observing the children in their independent conversations amongst themselves. How expressive they are and how confident they are in what they are saying. As parents, we can be far too intrusive at times, so those little glimpses are precious." 

Article by Sinead Halliday

Learn more about Buddah Hands at

Photographs courtesy of Sylvia Dardha

Buddah Hands appeared in the Warragul and Drouin Gazette as Playgroup of the Month.



April Playgroup of the Month 

Selandra Playgroup

Building Community Spirit

A sprawling area of Melbourne’s outer south east burgeons with new houses and freshly paved streets. Families stretch out beyond the city fringes, choosing a bigger plot of land with a back garden they have long dreamed of having. Young children peer out from their front window, looking across to a fellow neighbour who they hope to play with. Many children keep within the confines of their residence as their Mother watches on cautiously. She is unsure in this new area but she too hopes to make a friend across the street.

Then one day, as one neighbour passes another in their driveway, things change. One Mother invites the other to their playgroup. From then on, they no longer live as mere acquaintances; they are now part of something meaningful.

Jessica Quinn is the leader of Selandra Playgroup in Clyde North. She said that what started as something small has transformed her life and many others in the area. Jessica is one of the volunteers at Selandra Playgroup, along with Naresa and Sam.

Only three Mothers turned up when there was an initial call out to the community in April 2015. The playgroup slowly bloomed as the word spread. Now they have people waiting at the door because they want to be part of it. Jessica said that people pay membership ahead of time because they want a guarantee that they can come back.

“Coming to playgroup makes us all feel important,” said Jessica.  Family inclusion is very important, and to make each person feel a part of the playgroup is a task we take seriously.  With all the newly arriving families to the area, it is important that our playgroup gives a connection with community groups in the area. With this comes a real sense of belonging to something, even if it’s only once or twice a week for some families”.

“We do not exclude anyone from attending our playgroup. We know how important it is for Mums to meet other people and form friendships. Even Mums with little babies, we encourage them to come and be involved, and to connect.”

“Relationships and friendships are an important part of our playgroup and we strive to strengthen and build the relationships we have with each family.  I believe that the healthy relationships we have with the parents already, are a testament to our ongoing commitment to improving these interactions and improving the general regard of the playgroup within the local community”.

When listening to Jessica speak, it is clear that this playgroup fills her with joy and gives her a great sense of achievement for all of the effort she puts into it. She thoughtfully plans the playgroup sessions and cares deeply about each of the people who attend.

The flourishing playgroup has not gone unnoticed in wider circles. Playgroup Victoria’s Development Adviser Leanne Dhami visits many playgroups in her south east district. Selandra stood out to her immediately. She nominated Selandra as Playgroup of the Month.

“The thing that stood out the most, as soon as I walked into the room, everyone turned and smiled and greeted me, including the children,” said Leanne.

“The leader of the group greeted everyone by name and very warmly welcomed new families to the playgroup, explaining the routine, showing where everything is and then introduced a few families to the new parent.”

This inclusiveness gives Selandra a wonderful atmosphere. Jessica said that the location has made it a unique type of playgroup.

“The City of Casey is growing so quickly- sometimes I have waiting lists. People are desperate to come and join in the fun we have!”

“Often the Mother loves it as much as the child, knowing that she has made something from nothing during craft time for example. It gives Mothers a sense of achievement which they would not normally get at home.”

“I try to keep the sessions different and tie them to current events such as Mother’s day, or Easter, or something that is on at the time. I try to incorporate it into our playgroup.”

“Playgroup provides a sense of belonging, knowing they have come away and made something of their own,” said Jessica.

When visiting the playgroup Leanne observed that Selandra has a great balance in their structured and unstructured time.

“There is so much effort and commitment put into the organising and running of the group to pull it all together, this is the perfect example of how a community can come together to form a group that supports everyone that attends.”

“Acknowledging playgroups like this, allows other playgroups to see what is happening and maybe they can use some of the techniques and ideas for their own groups.”

Leanne said that spreading good news about what is happening in playgroups is one of the most rewarding parts of her role. Leanne and the entire team at Playgroup Victoria are delighted to call Selandra our Playgroup of the Month.

Jessica’s enthusiasm for Selandra playgroup sings out of her. She is genuinely chuffed to hear that Selandra playgroup is a success story.

“I feel at the end of each term I have to give them a hug goodbye because they are my friends.” Said Jessica.

Selandra Playgroup is a culturally diverse playgroup with families from many backgrounds.

Article by Sinead Halliday

Selandra appeared in The Cranbourne Times in acknowledgement of their wonderful community contributions and as Playgroup Victoria’s Playgroup of the Month:


March Playgroup of the Month

Grasshoppers Playgroup

A sense a belonging


Volcano eruptions, pony rides, and a special Mother’s Day morning tea are all part of the fun at Grasshoppers Playgroup. The family group in Melbourne’s south-west has earned ‘Playgroup of the Month’. Grasshoppers have been flourishing in recent years and it has become a meaningful place for many families.  

“I attend Grasshoppers playgroup and we love it,” parent Abhilasha Aggarwal said.

Abhilasha nominated the playgroup, wanting it to get the attention it deserves.

“It has become like a family to us, we have made some lasting friends who help each other, not just physically but emotionally also.”

Abhilasha praises the playgroup for giving her the support she was in need of when raising her young children.

“As a stay at home mum, the main conversations I had were with my two children. I craved adult conversation, some time to relax and wind down. That is what pulled me to Grasshoppers as I really liked the people attending it and hit it off instantly with some.”

“Playgroup has been my resource centre in the sense that we discuss parenting issues, give each other suggestions and ideas, share experiences and provide references for good schools, doctors and paediatricians.”

The playgroup located in Wyndham Vale has been a sanctuary for many parents and their children. Grasshoppers has a created a positive environment for early years learning, managing to maintain wonderful balance between socialisation, education and fun.

Grasshoppers President Fiona Hetrich became involved with Grasshoppers in 2015 when her child was two years of age. She said that she could see the potential in the playgroup.

“I wanted to transform the playgroup experience into something extra special for both my children and other members of my community.”

Fiona and Abhilasha both agree that their playgroup gives them a sense of belonging.

The smiles, happy people and strong friendships are a rewarding part of the playgroup experience.

Abhilasha said that she can see that there are many benefits for the children.

“They not only develop and increase their social skills, they also learn all about sharing, cooperation and simple routines of snack time, washing hands before snacks, music and rhyme time.”

“The children get to partake in new experiences, learn new skills and develop language and communication. They also enjoy learning more about the world around them in a safe and secure environment.”

This in part is due to Grasshoppers belief in the Early Years Learning Framework's (EYLF). The framework adheres to principles of being, belonging and becoming.

“We plan activities and events on the basis that ‘a child’s development and learning takes place as they begin to explore, develop interests, create their own identity and make meaning to the world around them’," said Fiona.

“We continually strive for new, interesting and educational incursions for our children, along with crafts and other learning activities. We try to make the playgroup experience as fun and memorable as possible.”

Even years ago when Grasshoppers were not as organised, Abhilasha said it was still a very fun place to go to. This sentiment carries through.

“I would encourage any parent to take their children to playgroup as it benefits, not only the child but also the parents.”

“In the crazy world of parenting, playgroup acts as a strong place to get your sanity back. I am just joking! But yes, parenting can get overwhelming sometimes and knowing there are people like you, helps a lot and provides strength.”

“Sometimes in the rush of life, parents forget to sit back and enjoy their children, play and interact with them. Playgroup provides just that.” 

Grasshoppers have managed to incorporate the whole family and greater community to the benefit of all. The children have made gifts for their Dad’s, crafts to share and they celebrate seniors week to include their grandparents and older people in the community. The full circle approach is overarching, reaching out to the many strands that form the tree of life.

There are developmental advantages given to the children at playgroup.

Fiona recognises that playgroup is also greatly beneficial for those children who have difficult home situations.

“It provides them with the resources to play and learn in a safe, interactive and friendly environment.”

At the heart of the matter, is happiness. Playgroup is here to connect friends and family, while learning along the way. Grasshoppers have proudly gone above and beyond in their quest to make their playgroup the best that it can possibly be. We congratulate them on all of their hard work and community spirit.

Articles by Sinead Halliday