The Magic of Storytelling playgroup

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The Magic of Storytelling playgroup

The Magic of Storytelling playgroup is a free weekly playgroup in West Ryde with a literacy focus, organised by a collective of organisations who contribute to the running of the play group.

Who is involved?

United Way Australia (UWA) facilitates a working party of organisations local to the Ryde LGA called the Early Learning Action Group. Members include:

  • The Northern Centre
  • Integricare
  • Ryde City Council
  • Relationships Australia-Community Builders
  • Ryde/Hunters Hill Child and Family Interagency
  • UWA (Chair)

The working group meets 4 times a year.

Purpose / aim:
The playgroup’s goal is to create a welcoming space for families from diverse cultures, encourage positive interactions between parents and children, help parents connect with each other, and connect them with local organisations in the community. It also provides referrals for families and children who need extra support and focus on promoting early childhood literacy.

Ryde is a rapidly growing Local Government Area in Sydney, NSW, with ABS data showing a predicted population growth of nearly 20% between 2016 and 2022. It is also a multicultural city, with over 80% of the population speaking a language other than English according to the 2016 census.

In consultation with local families, it was discovered that due to the rapid growth in population, local playgroups were full and not accepting new families. In addition, AEDC data reveals that playgroups are less frequently accessed by Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) families, and these families are also less likely to have their child enrolled in a preschool program. Both preschool and playgroup are known protective factors for school readiness.

It was agreed that a free, drop-in playgroup would be developed with a literacy focus to support school readiness in the community. Barriers to accessing playgroups were considered, as a result a playgroup was set up to be more inclusive, including:

  • Free entry
  • No formal sign up (although attendance is collected each week)
  • Hosted in a local park, attracting passers-by who may not know about the playgroup concept
  • Well sign-posted making it easy to find
  • Drop in – no need to commit to a certain number of weeks
  • Bilingual staff, and where possible, bilingual volunteers, are available to communicate with parents, providing cultural context and understanding.
  • Relevant information is provided in the primary languages of the community.

As a result, the playgroup has a large multicultural attendance, including a network of Korean, Mandarin and Hindi speaking parents and grandparents.

In addition to removing barriers to playgroup access, the committee of organisations includes family workers who can help support families and promote parenting programs and additional support. Special guests are invited to provide outreach to families, including an early childhood nurse creating awareness of the early childhood developmental checks in Australia. Information about developmental milestones is provided.

Integricare attends and provides the structure each week, while other organisations attend on a monthly basis according to a roster system. Guests are invited based on the roster system as well.

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The playgroup runs for an hour and a half at the same time each week. The first hour is free play, where families can mingle and play with their children. The toys and program are supplied by Integricare, who oversees supported playgroups across Northern Sydney and receive funding from the Department of Social Services to do so. Every week, a different theme related to child development is highlighted, along with parent education specifically tailored to that theme. In addition, a reading tent is provided to encourage book exploration. Moreover, there are extra activities available that further expand on specific books.

● Costs covered by Integricare include the cost of van and toys, along with expenses for petrol, van maintenance, and staff time.

The last half hour of the playgroup is dedicated to Storytime. Children and their families sit on colourful mats, while staff and parent volunteers sit up the front on small chairs and lead everyone in song. Afterwards, one or two books are read to the group. Books are generally themed to events that are happening at that time, such as Mother’s Day. The books are read by a family worker or a parent volunteer, modelling early literacy engagement. The repetition of simple children’s songs each week provide a gentle introduction to English for those who are not proficient.

The Early Learning Action Group have applied for small grants to support additional activities at the playgroup, including Sing & Grow music therapy and Ready Steady Go sports program. These additional activities increase attendance at the playgroup and provide variety in what is taking place through the year.

●  Costs vary by provider and how often they will be in attendance.

A partnership with a local business park provides volunteering opportunities to assist at the playgroup.

How does the Imagination Library support the playgroup?

Ryde Imagination Library works with organisations such as The Northern Centre and the Early Childhood Health clinic to identify and enrol vulnerable children.

●  When children are enrolled into the Imagination Library, they are also invited to attend the Magic of Storytelling playgroup. This invitation opens the door to community connection, play-based learning, and additional support.

●  Families attending the playgroup are enrolled into the Imagination Library, providing them with free monthly books and reading resources. 

The history

The Magic of Storytelling has been running since 2017. It began when several local organisations, led by UWA, came together to discuss gaps in the community and how these could be filled. Over time, various organisations have been involved based on funding cycles and capacity. The Magic of Storytelling structure and toys were originally provided by a mobile play van belonging to an organisation who were no longer able to be involved. The question of how the play group would continue was raised at a child interagency, Integricare offered to become involved.

Over time the playgroup has evolved to offer an interactive Facebook group which provides community information, parent education, and take-home literacy related craft packs for parents to engage with their child. During COVID-19 pandemic, craft packs were put together and left at the park for collection (details communicated via Facebook) and on-line catch-ups were held to help relieve some of the isolation that the lockdowns brought on.

Measures of success

The Magic of Storytime playgroup has successfully provided an inclusive, multicultural playgroup with over 10 language groups represented. Grandparents, often with little to no English or connection to the community, have engaged in the playgroup and become regular attendees, helping them to make connections with others in the community.

Currently, the playgroup has an attendance of between 30 and 50 people each week. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the weekly attendance averaged around 100 people. Demographic data, including the number of attendees, their ages, and cultural backgrounds, is recorded to track the group’s growth and other changes.

The Facebook group has over 800 members and there are 1,000 children enrolled in the Imagination Library.