Over 60 ideas to consider for strong supported playgroups

Supported playgroupsHow supported playgroup programs deliver their services vary. There are a wide range of practices involved in providing specific program elements, activities, procedures, philosophies, and policies that effect the way each program is provided to families. Attracting parents to the group, encouraging regular attendance and promoting participation in group activities are all important factors for a successful supported playgroup. The following ideas for helping to create strong supported playgroups is from research literature on supported playgroups. (For a summary of some of the literature see “An overview of literature on supported playgroups“.)

Facilities and Context

  • Use an easily accessible geographical location
  • Provide a welcoming, comfortable physical environment to conduct the playgroup in
  • Use a space that is responsive and flexible
  • Provide a consistent facilitator presence
  • Use trained volunteers to help run the group to free the facilitator to respond to individual parent needs
  • Keep attendance costs to a minimum
  • Subsidise transport costs
  • Build strong links with the local community to ensure families are encouraged to attend by community members
  • Be well connected to local services and referral pathways
  • Offer connections to other professionals


  • Use program content as an important feature to support the recruitment and retention of families
  • Use novel and stimulating program content
  • Have session routines that include free play, morning tea, an interactive activity, shared reading and pack up time
  • Include appropriate play activities
  • Include child behaviour management strategies
  • Provide high quality toys and resources
  • Promote general health and wellbeing
  • Include parents by supporting their participation in shared decision making about session planning, preparation and participation in activities
  • Mix it up
  • Keep it informal and fun
  • Consider expanding supported playgroups to include integrated services like life-skills classes, intensive family support, co-referrals, bus services, or whole-of-family school holiday events
  • Provide opportunities for transition into other community groups and activities


  • Have professional knowledge on child development and learning
  • Hold aligned beliefs and practices
  • Engage in teamwork
  • Hold broad knowledge of local service systems and referral pathways for families
  • Undertake ongoing professional development and training


  •  Use personal invitations
  • Use a range of promotional materials: flyers, word of mouth, promotional days, ‘bring a friend’ days
  • Use broad inclusive terms in promotional materials to describe playgroup
  • Promote playgroup by using broad and inclusive terms
  • Provide incentives like food or excursions
  • Promote playgroup through, and get referrals from, the local service networt
  • For families from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds recruitment is more successful when staff are from the same cultural background as the target population

Strategies in group

  • Stay focused on the goals of the playgroup
  • Use a family-centred approach
  • Use good interpersonal communication skills
    • Sensitivity
    • Respect
    • Non-judgment
    • Empathy
    • Listening
    • Genuine interest
    • Care
    • Unconditional acceptance of parents
  • Develop trust with families
  • Build rapport
  • Put families at ease
  • Build positive relationships with parents
  • Work alongside parents
  • Help parents adopt new strategies and practices
  • Validate parents as the experts on their child
  • Model appropriate behaviours in an informal, non-threating way
  • Encourage the development of social relationships in the group
  • Have regular informal one-to-one and group conversations about child development, play and behaviour
  • Recognise and reinforce occasions of positive parenting
  • Provide parents with support, advice and appropriate referral where necessary
  • Support parent-child interactions and bonding
  • Provide guidance to parents without implying criticism of their actions
  • Be culturally sensitive and competent
  • Help parents access other services
  • Respond promptly to changing needs
  • Manage difficult group dynamics
  • Deal with challenging issues
  • Be prepared to have difficult conversations
  • Support the establishment of social networks outside the group
  • Maintain regular contact and communication with families including informal phone calls that remind families about upcoming sessions and making contact when a session has been missed

 Strategies for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups

  •  Build trust by employing a worker from a CALD background
  • Help parents adopt new parenting behaviours
  • Use interpreters to aid communication
  • Provide balance between similarity of circumstance and diversity in the group
  • Provide befriending opportunities particularly during the antenatal period

Strategies for mobile supported playgroups

  • Provide a consistent session routine
  • Take a strong leadership role

 For additional information see

Matthews, J., Cameron, E., Fox, S., Hackworth, N., Kitanovski, M., & Vista, A. (2012). Supported Playgroups and Parent Groups Initiative (SPPI) process evaluation. Melbourne: State of Victoria, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Available from http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/about/programs/health/sppiprocesseval.pdf

Strange, C., Fisher, C., Howat, P., & Wood, L. (2014). Fostering supportive connections through mothers’ groups and playgroups. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 70(12), 2835-2846.

Targowska, A., Teather, S. & Guilfoyle, A. (2015). Optimising children’s readiness to learn through mediating social disadvantage: Exploring models of best practice, Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 40(2),12–19.

Warr, D., Mann, R., & Forbes, D. (2013). Supported playgroups as a setting for promoting physical activity of young children: Findings from a feasibility study in south-west Sydney, Australia. Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, 50, 301-305.

Williams, K., Berthelsen, D., Nicholson, J., & Viviani, M. (2015) Systematic literature review: Research on supported playgroups (March). School of Early Childhood, Queensland University of Technology: Brisbane. Available from http://eprints.qut.edu.au/91439/

These ideas were prepared by Leanne Schubert (with some input from me and Deborah Hartman) from the Family Action Centre, University of Newcastle as part of a project supporting nine rural and regional family services to implement evidence-based programs and practice. The project was funded by the Department funded by the Department of Social Services through the Children and Families Expert Panel. You can see other posts arising from this work at https://sustainingcommunity.wordpress.com/resources-for-students/expert-panel-caps/.

If you liked this post please follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. An overview of literature on supported playgroups
  2. Playgroups as a foundation for working with hard to reach families
  3. Mutual self-help parent groups
  4. Building relationships
  5. Childhood trauma and brain development
  6. Engaging fathers: An overview of evidence-based practice

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Families & parenting and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Over 60 ideas to consider for strong supported playgroups

  1. See page 15 for an article on an outdoor, strong, staffed supported playgroup in Victoria…

    Click to access play_and_folklore_no61_april_2014.pdf


  2. Judi says:

    Great article on such a powerful tool to support parents and children.
    What about the style of delivery by facilitators? Does say ..have aligned beliefs and practices…
    One certainly can’t be authoritarian, so what style is appropriate?


    • Thanks Judi
      I really like Lousie Porter’s approach to working with children (see for example her book “Young children’s behaviour: Guidance approaches for early childhood educators”). In terms of what works, a colleague and I identified some things we had learnt from providing playgroups (see Playgroups as a foundation for working with hard to reach families )
      I must admit I feel we need more research into what makes a successful playgroup rather than trying to come up with a definitive answer for whether or not playgroups do work.

      It seems to me there is so much variation in playgroups, and I suspect that often the success (or otherwises) actually lies in what the facilitators do (e.g., how they relate to families) rather than the program model or content.


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