The Evidence Base for the Benefits of Playgroup

You already know that Playgroup WA loves playgroup and we know that many Australian families and communities have embraced playgroups with their time, wisdom, knowledge, money and passion for decades. In recent years researchers have become increasingly interested in what playgroup has to offer to children, families and communities as a steadily expanding range of services and governments have discovered the unique opportunities created by the seemingly simple concept of bringing children and parents together to build relationships around the focal point of play experiences.

As you read through the research you will see that children and families that go to playgroup are linked to a wide range of positive outcomes.

  • Playgroup children are less likely to be identified as vulnerable on the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC)
  • Adults that go to playgroup report stronger social connections years after they have left playgroup
  • Families that go to playgroup have more books for children
  • Adults who go to playgroup are more likely to access other support services such as child health.
  • Communities with high playgroup participation have lower AEDC vulnerabilities

We could go on and with further research we expect we would find better mental health and child safety outcomes amongst many other benefits. The explanation for all these benefits is for us both obvious yet complex. Playgroups are about building supportive relationships, and supportive relationships are cornerstones of healthy child development and adult functioning. Playgroups offer the opportunity to nurture:

  • Positive attachment between children and parents through play -based interactions that can be transferred into the home environment
  • Developmentally appropriate social and emotional experiences for children
  • Supportive peer relationships amongst parents and caregivers that extend into broader community cohesion and sense of community and well beyond the playgroup years
  • Normalising experiences for parents as they observe and experience the diversity of child and adult behaviour and attitudes
  • Platforms for the exchange of place- based information between parents about services and opportunities for families
  • Bridges between families the other services within local communities

The importance of relationships, from infant attachment to parental support networks to community cohesion and accessible service delivery, has long been known to be a fundamental building block of human health and development. It’s why social isolation is so often linked to poor physical and mental health outcomes. It’s why intergenerational activities are so important for seniors, and peer support so important for families experiencing chronic health and/or disability challenges.

There are of course many factors involved in the success of any particular playgroup: from the quality of the facilities to the types of play resources and activities, and the skills of both volunteer management and paid facilitators. We have no doubts, however, that the quality of relationships is the cornerstone of playgroup and the primary reason for the many benefits that participation brings.

Playgroup WA strongly encourages people who are involved in children and family practice and policy to use the growing independent evidence base with some key resources listed below.

Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) has a great variety of playgroup resources that address community and supported playgroup models with areas covered including:

  • sample playgroup program logics
  • Playgroup evaluation guides
  • Principles for High Quality Playgroups
  • Playgroup Literature Reviews/evidence summaries

For more information, click here.

The Australian Catholic University (ACU) in Ballarat, Victoria, also has an ongoing involvement in playgroup research with a particular interest in evaluating playgroup initiatives in schools and regional areas. For more information, click here.

If you want to listen to a researcher talking about playgroups the following interview with Dr Karen Maclean from ACU is a great place to start, click here.

Telethon Kids Institute has a variety of research papers, click here.

The Centre for Community Child Health has a variety of references and papers, click here.

Research by the University of South Australia, published in 2023 and commissioned by Playgroup Australia, on the topic: "Playgroups post pandemic, a snapshot of attendance and child development from 2012 to 2021" provides further confirmation of the benefits of playgroup attendance for child development. It also confirms that playgroup attendance has declined in Australia since the pandemic. To read the report, click here.