The latest research on paediatric development indicates that at the time of starting school, children who do not attend playgroup are twice as likely to be developmentally behind as children who do. After controlling for demographic and socio-economic factors, data gathered by the Australian Early Development Census by researchers from the Telethon Kids Institute, found that children who didn’t attend playgroup were more than twice as likely to have difficulty with literacy, numeracy, communications skills, and general knowledge by the time they reached kindergarten.
This was a bigger difference than that observed in children’s social skills and emotional maturity. Given that playgroups involve play-based activities, the biggest impacts on children’s development might be expected in their social skills, researchers said.
It is believed that the lightly structured nature of playgroups encourages creative growth in children, fostering learning and development. As children lead their own play and follow their individual interests there is more room for creativity. They are also able to learn from each other socially, which assists with development in other areas. The quality of parent-child interactions also appears to be facilitated through playgroup and helps to boost children’s development. Playgroup also complements the early education provided by day-care or preschool settings.
[Early childhood educators] say they can really see kids who attended playgroup; they understand a lot of the social cues of being in a group … Playgroup offers something for everyone at everyone’s age and development stage.
Researchers from the Telethon Kids Institute have suggested the positive effects of playgroup on children’s development seen at the start of school may also be further evident in their NAPLAN results in later primary years. It is not known though, what amount of attendance in playgroup is required in order to achieved beneficial developmental results. At this stage one third of Australian children are attending playgroups before starting school; New South Wales seems to have the least attendance in playgroup across the country with gradual declines over the recent decade.
Wealthier families are more likely to take their children to playgroup, as are parents of girls compared with parents of boys. Indigenous children and children from a non-English speaking background are less likely to attend playgroup.
Mother of two, Evelyn Ransom, discusses the benefits of playgroup for both herself through the support she receives from other mothers, and for her children through their social and cognitive development. She believes her daughter Zarah (four years old) will be ready to begin school in the upcoming year thanks to the skills she has acquired through playgroup and further nurtured in preschool. This includes counting, colouring, independent scissor use and recognising her name. However, Evelyn believes the most important skill she has learned is how to make friends and interact well socially.
The ultimate goal of playgroup is social skills, taking turns, caring for others, being gentle, being respectful. Zarah is so passionate with her friends, and so nurturing. She always looks after her friends, we encourage that in playgroup.