Stories

Mikayla's Accessible Journey

Attending a playgroup gave 24-year-old Mikayla Cronin the confidence to enrol in a Diploma of Community Services.

The mum of three young boys was new to the Redbank Plains area some years back having moved with her husband to be close to his work. She didn’t know anyone and was isolated from friends and family. She found out about playgroup when her oldest son started school. One day she just decided to turn up with her then youngest son in tow.

Fast forward two years and she now has two sons at school and a third son is now attending playgroup and she is the contact person for the program.

“When I joined I felt I didn’t have a purpose other than being a mum. I had no direction of where I wanted to go in life,” Mikayla says.

“After just a couple of weeks (at playgroup) my confidence level improved and my now middle son who had attachment issues was learning to be more self-sufficient and building his social and emotional skills needed for Prep. I realised I wasn’t alone anymore; other mums were having the same issues I was having and we could relate to each other.

“As a mum – even knowing someone is there for you is enough to help feel supported.”

When the role of contact person of the group became available Mikayla applied and got the job. But, she didn’t stop there. She decided she wanted to help young families who were experiencing that same loneliness and isolation she felt in the beginning of her playgroup journey and the best way to do that was to “skill up”. She is in the process of completing a Diploma of Community Services that sees her doing her volunteer placement with the Red Cross – in the very building where her playgroup meets each week.

“Without playgroup there is no way I would have ever had the courage to do this. I have made some wonderful friends and it has connected me to a wonderful community. My now one-year-old is learning all the amazing things that grow from having the support and friendships of playgroup.”

Virginia and Robin's Volunteering Journey

Virginia Shorthose started Brisbane’s first playgroup back in the early 70s along with her two-year-old daughter, Fiona. They both loved playgroup so much that when the family returned from a stint in Cambridge – where she was studying – Virginia took a job with the YMCA, the organisation that was responsible for the facilitation of playgroups in Brisbane. She stayed in her role with YMCA for more than 26 years. During this time, she coordinated over 60 playgroups.

Virginia is passionate about early childhood and the families she meets. She and husband, Robin, have been volunteers with Playgroup Queensland since they opened the doors to Carindale’s PGQ Toy Library 13 years ago. The couple make a point of knowing something special about each of the 60 families who are members.

“And we know most of them by name,” Virginia says.

“Some of our members travel from as far away as the Gold Coast to pick up toys to borrow for their children each month.”

Virginia and Robin have seen a growth in the number of families with babies visiting the library since Play Stars was launched this year. The couple is looking forward to introducing yet another generation to the delights of playgroup and the many benefits that come with being a member – things like having access to a toy library where it doesn’t cost a cent to take home the latest and greatest toy for their child.

Olivia's Dragonfly Dads Playgroup Journey

Hi Playgroup Queensland,

My name is Olivia, I’m Matt’s wife.

First up, I just wanted to provide some feedback about Dragonfly Dads Playgroup (Warner). I think it has been wonderful! Emma has come home every week incredibly happy and excitedly will tell me about the great activities she did at “daddy playgroup”.

Since attending this playgroup, I have seen a great improvement in their relationship and bond. Emma is much more eager to play with Matt and asks for him to be involved in things that she would previously only want me to do.

I think this has been directly attributable to them having this specific activity they now do together and the bond formed by doing so. I also think it is great that dads are given this opportunity to engage with each other through their role.

As an added bonus, it has given me a few hours each week to have some one-on-one time with my second bubba, which is otherwise hard to do with a toddler at home full time.

So, thank you Playgroup Queensland for Dragonfly Dads.

Thanks

Olivia

Kate's Grandparent Playgroup Journey

Kate Otter has had a long and fascinating career as experienced registered nurse and still enjoys working two days in this noble profession; however, it is her most recent role as a grandmother that has given her unimaginable joy far greater than she could have imagined. It does work both ways as three-year-old Lucas gets to enjoy one day a week with his Nai Nai, which is grandma in Taiwanese. Lucas’ mother is from Taiwan.

While Kate had made her house toddler friendly, she felt that a playgroup-type environment would provide Lucas with a greater variety of activities and other children to interact with. She found Playgroup Queensland on the internet and after talking with a member of the Playgroup Support Team she decided to try out a playgroup close to her Shorncliffe home. While she found the group to be welcoming and pleasant, it was not quite what she was looking for.

“The parents welcomed me and were pleasant but they were mostly young parents who had clearly developed a strong network and I just felt the fit was not quite right,” she says.

Kate was also given information about a Grandparents Playgroup at Ascot. While it was a bit further to travel, she decided it was worth a try and she is pleased that she did. She said she was made to feel very welcome from the moment Coordinator of the Specialists Playgroups, Darren Fong, greeted her at the door.

“Darren and the other grandparents really made me feel very welcome and comfortable from the start,” Kate says.

It is the unstructured nature of the Grandparent Playgroup that appeals to Kate.

“It offers a nice balance of everything. You get to have chat with other grandparents, but you are also involved in your grandchild’s play. There is great range of toys and play activities which encourage the children to play together.

“What I really enjoy about playgroup is the kids can play independently, with other children, or with their grandparents. I love how the kids are free to move in and out of different play situations and yet despite the loose format of playgroup, I watch them working things out and problem solving.”

Kate feels the Grandparents Playgroup is a wonderful concept and she would certainly recommend it to the many grandparents who look after young grandchildren on a regular basis.

“As grandparents we have a specific support role to play in the lives of our grandchildren and it’s nice to be able to chat about things at an informal level. And Darren makes you feel like you belong and when it is time to pack up everyone works together to get it done.”

For Kate personally, playgroup is creating some wonderful memories; no doubt for Lucas too, it is creating some wonderful memories of time spent with his Nai Nai.

Samantha's Redlands' Playgroup Hub Journey

Three years ago I was blessed with a beautiful baby boy, Hudson, and shortly after that we moved to the Redlands.

Not knowing anyone in the area I gladly joined the Playgroup Hub in Cleveland. I made some new friends and my boy still regularly meets up with his playgroup buddies.

Two years later our daughter, Willow, was born completing our family. Once again I returned to the Hub with both my children. We have not only enjoyed the benefits of playgroup weekly and the toy library, but also thoroughly take advantage of the pram stroll event that happens on a Friday to encourage health, fitness, healthy eating and getting out and about in the outdoors.

Participating in this weekly event has given me confidence and the strength to be able to take on further exercise regimes with my kids including park runs on Saturday mornings. I am also really looking forward to being able to participate in the playgroup fitness group when it gets up and running.

*Not her real name

Michele's Gardner Park Playgroup Journey

Michele* came to Gardner Park Playgroup as a very frustrated single mother of two boys aged three and four. She struggled to understand her role as a mother and how she could help her boys learn the necessary skills needed to enter school.

After regular participation in the playgroup she was able to understand her role as parent and as her sons’ first teacher. She worked hard to build positive engagement with her boys even on her rough days.

Michele became comfortable with the local BUSHKids worker who attended Gardner Park Playgroup on a regular basis and accepted support for her sons who both presented with speech delays and a low level of social and emotional skills.

As a result of both boys engaging in the playgroup, their confidence increased to the extent they enrolled in kindergarten. Michele has become a very active playgroup member and a great role model for the other playgroup mothers.

*Not her real name

Sarah's Playconnect Journey

Sarah Weston was no stranger to playgroup having been part of a playgroup at Wishart for over two years, but when she took her two-year-old son Hamish, to Playgroup’s PlayConnect at Holland Park she felt uncomfortable. It was loud and a bit on the rowdy side. She did not want to be there but she needed something for her two-year-old son, who she suspected of having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and was desperately trying to obtain a diagnosis.

That was three years ago and ask Sarah if she is glad she went back and the answer is a resounding “absolutely”.

“That first day was confronting and I did not want to be there, but I knew I had to go back. It’s like enrolling your kids into swimming lessons, there is no point only going to one lesson, you have to keep going back to get the benefits”, Sarah says.

The PlayConnect program is designed to meet the needs of children who have ASD, developmental delay, behavioural and sensory issue. Sarah says it is a perfect program for kids like Hamish.

“It is set up with specific toys for specific kids. The kids parallel play which is fine and if there is a meltdown, which there often is, it is not an issue; everyone is ok with that, no one is judgemental,” Sarah says.

But PlayConnect is not just about children who have a disorder.

“I have two other children who come to the sessions. The program gives me some respite so that I can spend some quality time with them and they love that. I have a chance to focus on them while knowing that Hamish is safe and in good hands,” Sarah says.

“They play and have fun too. They are also interacting with other kids who have similar disorders to their brother. They see that this kind or condition is not unique to Hamish so if a child has a tantrum or behaves in a certain way, they don’t see it as being a big deal.”

Perhaps one of the most positive aspects for Sarah is the interaction with other parents.

“Peer support is really the connect in PlayConnect” she says.

“The Holland Park program has built a level of trust. There is no other place like that. We laugh a lot and we all have a good sense of humour; we have to otherwise we will go insane.”

For Sarah, PlayConnect is more than the sum of its parts. It has been such a positive outlet for her, a chance to offload with other people who get it; share stories, ideas, laugh at the ridiculous; in a word, just connect.

Kathryn's Community Playgroup Journey

Kathryn Richardson decided well before starting her family that she wanted to be a stay-at-home mum while her kids were young. But, she was aware of how isolating this can be, especially if, as was the case for her, there was no family network to support her and her new family. To help break the isolation cycle, she joined a playgroup and became the contact person for the little group of mums.

It has been almost a decade since this bubbly mum of two boys started her playgroup journey and she says it has been such a positive experience not just for her boys but for her as well.

“Make no mistake, playgroup is just as beneficial for parents as it is for kids,” she says.

Kathryn firmly believes there is a strong mental health benefit to belonging to a playgroup.

“I did suffer postnatal anxiety and it was this strong parent network that kept me sane. Just to talk through an issue and know that you are not the only one; others are facing and dealing with the same sorts of things was so comforting”,” she says.

“Often we would talk through a particular concern and come up with a collective solution. It was like a brain storming session without the butcher’s paper and whiteboard,” she says.

The kids benefit in so many different ways and Kathryn believes that playgroup can develop a broader range of social skills in children than a day care centre.

“Day care has a place, but what it can’t deliver is a setting where children develop core values that are modelled not just by you but by the parents of the other children,” she says.

Kathryn has now hung up her playgroup hat as her eldest boy is at school and her youngest is preparing for school. She said her playgroup experience had been very rewarding and believed it was a must for stay-at-home parents, parents working part-time and grandparents.

“Don’t stay at home as it is important for you and your child or children to get out of your four walls; out of your bubble. You suddenly realise that there is more than one way to parent.”

What is important says Kathryn, is that playgroup brings out a sense of community and all those families who have been part of a local playgroup are better off for it.

Griffin State Schools Playgroup in Schools Journey

In 2016, Griffin State School opened its doors in Brisbane’s north with 260 students. The independent school is located in a growth corridor populated by families with young children.

While the school catered for children aged five and over, the community needed a service that supported parents and carers with younger children. Pamela Connolly – a Griffin State School mum – recognised this need and contacted Playgroup Queensland. As a result, Playgroups in Schools started at the school in July 2015.

The first playgroup was a great success with more than 20 families in attendance.

“Pamela did a wonderful job of promoting the playgroup through the school newsletter and through other social media platforms,” Playgroups in Schools Coordinator Kirsten Leech says.

“The playgroup has continued to be successful with numbers growing to 41 children attending one session. For a new school in a local community this has been a very successful start to a playgroup’s journey.”

The Little Wildlings Journey

The village… It seems to be what so many parents are looking for these days. There are so many ways that we are disconnected with family and society and the parenting world can be a lonely place.

This is why finding a village, a village that supports your choices and helps you to find connection is such a vital thing.

Over the past year the Little Wildlings Natural Parenting Playgroup has come to create this village that we so badly needed. The friendships that have been created is something that are truly special.

The wandering nature of our group has allowed us to connect with each other, nature and adventure. Songs and storytelling are a beloved hallmark of our meetings, a common element that helps bring rhythm and flow to our space, wherever we may be. Eight months into the year we are still finding new adventures and building friendships, singing in the sunshine (and sometimes the rain).

Vicci, mum of Ellie (age four) and Macey (age two), is the creator and contact person for Little Wildlings Natural Parenting Playgroup

Do you have a playgroup story you’d like to share with us? We would love to hear from you. Click on the link below to submit your story.