As thousands of Queensland children returned to school last week, this week we shine a spotlight on a program designed to support vulnerable young children and their families in preparing for education whilst focusing on holistic wellbeing.
Play2Learn is a supported playgroup program of Save the Children. It aims to improve early childhood development whilst assisting parents with parenting skills and connection to community. Over 200 sites provide this service around Australia. In Queensland the program is offered in: Doomadgee, Mornington Island, Townsville, Ayr, Bowen, Charters Towers, Gladstone, North Kilcoy, Burnett, Tara, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Ipswich. Three groups are devliered to women and children in women's correctional centres in Brisbane and Townsville. Across the 52 Queensland Play2Learn sites, Save the Children have worked with over 2000 children and parents over the last six months.
Play2Learn consists of weekly playgroup sessions that incorporate early childhood learning through play as well as family support for parents. The program provides a welcoming and non-threatening environment for families to come together and support each other whilst also acting as a soft entry point to the support system for families with complex needs.
What is most unique and significant about Play2Learn is the flexibility offered to each community. Sessions and programming for both early childhood and family support is responsive to the needs of group members. Further to this flexibility, the outreach component ensures that this program is available to a wide cross section of communities being serviced. It is rare for a Play2Learn to be delivered inside a building. This outreach program is specifically designed for delivery in a range of venues including caravan parks, correctional centres and parks. All sessions commence with playtime. Children and parents are encouraged to engage in a mix of intentional and child lead play activities set up around a room and outdoor area. These activities are specifically designed to focus on fine and gross motor development, language and literacy, socialisation, wellbeing and positive parent/child interaction.
Justin Elstob, Save the Children’s Regional Coordinator, states that the evidence based program includes elements of circle of security and attachment theory as well as being based on resilience and school readiness programs. All Play2Learn teams are trained in Dr. Grant Sinnamon's REPAIR model, a six-step intervention that seeks to understand and support concerns around regulation, cognition, behaviour, emotion, motivation, and physical form and function through an improved understanding of the impacts of early trauma on brain development. The program promotes the use of sensory-motor practices to assist brain function and performance. Justin sees the evidence based approach to Play2Learn as a key strength. The flexibility of the program, he sees as another: “What I really love about the program most is the outreach capacity. We are going to children and families, to their environments and homes. In that, we’re bridging a gap that is often not covered.”
Depending on the funding model, each Play2Learn session is facilitated by at least one qualified professional early childhood educator and a family support worker / community worker. Wherever possible, we employ people from the local community are employed in these roles. Play2Learn places emphasis on the professional skills of staff as well as their local connections. They acknowledge that relationships are key to the work being undertaken. An early childhood educator plans play activities that support child development and school readiness while the family support worker engages parents and carers, supporting their development of parenting skills, connecting them with other parents and with community services as required.
The outcomes Save the Children hope to achieve through Play2Learn are child participation and development, school preparedness, enhanced parenting skills, social connection and knowledge of and referral to community services. Benefits of Play2Learn for parents and carers include: gaining parenting information, observing role modelling of play and interactions with children by staff and other parents, connection to others, opportunities to play with their child/ren, access to books, toys and craft activities and ideas for at home play with their child/ren.
Children benefit from age appropriate play opportunities in a child-friendly environment, the time to play with parents and carers and other children and improved school readiness. Play2Learn also promotes a sense of belonging to community and early intervention for any special needs identified by staff. In many areas partnerships are in place with allied health providers for child psychology, speech therapy and occupational therapy services.
Save the Children is committed to early childhood education in light of the fact that a child's development between birth and the age of five is critical to their health, learning and success later in life. Play is crucial - it provides the basis for cognitive, physical, social and emotional learning and development. Given that many socially and economically disadvantaged families in Australia aren't able to provide their children with opportunities for play-based learning, Play2Learn bridges this gap.