Playgroup/preschool link reaps rewards

A unique partnership between a playgroup and preschool is benefitting teachers, educators, children and families in a small rural community, writes Werris Creek and District Preschool Director and NSW/ACT Branch Early Childhood Services Council member Julia Cameron.

Werris Creek is nestled in the Liverpool Plains, a 45-minute drive south west of Tamworth in north western NSW. The 1800 population is made up of young families, retirees, farmers and railway employees. Werris Creek and District Preschool is a community-based preschool operating five days a week.

In 2015, the preschool received recurrent funding from the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA), for a Beyond the Gate project, to provide a playgroup for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous families. The playgroup operated out of a large community hall, chilly in winter and warm in summer.

The aim of playgroup was to bridge a gap. The vision was to create and maintain an environment of safety, belonging and mattering for all families as well as supporting friendships, while children experienced an educationally based program with the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) as its foundation.

Playgroup progress

As playgroup progressed, a partnership was formed with Winanga-Li Aboriginal Child and Family Centre, with a community worker providing Indigenous perspectives weekly, through song, dance, language and stories. On average 10–12 families attend each playgroup session.

The preschool and the local council negotiated on development applications for five years to enable the use of the building for playgroup. Successful grants were sought from a local community-based organisation, Farming for Kids and Whitehaven Coal.

This enabled the interior to be painted, new floor covering, a small kitchen, reverse cycle air conditioning and appliances such as a refrigerator and stove to be installed. NIAA agreed for some operational funding to be used to update resources and equipment.

In 2021 the hard work and tenacity of all those involved finally paid off, with playgroup now being offered twice a week during school terms.

It was a major boost when the Liverpool Plains Shire Council gifted the old library building, next door to the preschool, for use by the playgroup. Now the children could interact with each other through the windows (see photo).

Preschool administers the playgroup. The playgroup coordinator is also a preschool diploma-trained educator, so the transition for families and children has been seamless.

Language and culture.

Playgroup was named The Children’s and Dhiiyaan Nest (Dhiiyaan means family in Gomeroi) and the teaching of Gomeroi words has been a part of the playgroup experience which has filtered into the preschool community. Our playgroup coordinator brings a lot of learning back to the preschool

By attending playgroup, the children’s transition to preschool is a lot less stressful. Families get to know each other at playgroup, and grandparents and other siblings can make connections. Families are helping each other out picking up and dropping off children.

We can spot any potential issues with children at a very young age.

Some parents enjoy attending playgroup and spending time with their younger child while the older one is attending preschool.

One of the main advantages of playgroup is the early intervention. We can spot any potential issues with children at a very young age, which all the research highlights as beneficial. We work with allied health professionals such as speech therapists and occupational therapists to provide early intervention before the children even reach preschool.

Playgroup also gives educators and teachers a chance to discuss children’s developmental progress and parenting skills with parents attending playgroup. Again, there are benefits of early intervention here.

An oasis

This community suffered a lot during the awful drought, and is now enduring a horrendous mouse plague. This preschool/playgroup centre is a community hub that provides respite. People love coming here. In fact, they’ve asked for the playgroup hours to be extended.

There are plans afoot to develop the outdoor areas to provide a place for playgroup children to play outside, next to the preschool.

I’m not aware of any other playgroup/preschool partnerships like ours. I’ve posted some information about this on Facebook and I’ve received a lot of interest from people wanting to know how we managed to get this working. It’s a such a great stepping stone that could be beneficial in other rural communities.