When zoom becomes a playground

When zoom becomes a playground

Gordon-Pymble Uniting Church has a range of playgroups catering for newborns through to pre-schoolers. Each provides a place for parents/carers to play with their child, while they learn to play with other children and parents get to interact and create friendships.

Before COVID-19, playgroups had some structure for children, but with plenty of time for free play, craft suited for all ages, with weekly themed activities, story-time, dancing and singalongs, it was very relaxed. Each week they provided fruit for the children and tea/coffee for mums, dads, grandparents and carers.

When restrictions started to take hold, the family workers and playgroup organisers Courtney Heyden and Nicola Robinson, decided to shift to zoom gatherings almost immediately. It was late March, the same time homeschooling started.  They decided to have four zoom meetings for an hour, Monday through Thursday and prepared weekly themed crafts beforehand, which were left in envelopes outside the church for parents to pick up.

They also did activities that involved items you can find at home. They continued this schedule for the whole of Term 2. They also created treat bags, with the remainder of crafts to finish the term, that included games and plenty of resources to keep them busy, plus some special treats for parents as well.

By term three, with no sight of gathering, they modified the program to have specific sessions. Courtney told Insights that they decided to have the same craft activity on Mondays and Thursdays, changed the focus to storytime on Tuesdays and dance and exercise on Wednesdays.

“In addition, we invited some ‘experts’ to take one-off classes.  We’ve asked an Art teacher and a Poundfit exercise teacher to lead these special sessions. We are hoping to organise a few outdoor activities as the weather warms up as well,” explained Courtney.

Unfortunately, the number of attendees has dropped dramatically, and they are only seeing a quarter of the families who would typically attend. The main challenge they have faced during this period is to keep people engaged online. On average they have four or five families per session, but there have been sometimes with only one, two or no attendees.  

One of the main issues is that grandparents and carers are no longer looking after grandchildren and some parents are too busy working. On the other hand, some families thought Zoom was too complicated with children, but once they realised structure was the same online, they continued coming each week.  But organisers are committed to keeping the space alive, so they are continually innovating, brainstorming and researching to fulfil their audience needs.

 “The exercise and dance class have had some interest. Craft classes are popular too. Those who are attending appreciate all the effort GPUC (Gordon-Pymble Uniting Church) put in to pack up craft and are keen to join zoom and do all the activities together with the children, online. Families still enjoy the craft, story-time and dancing but mostly it’s keeping the routine and some kind of normality during this time” Nicola and Courtney told Insights.

Both organisers understand that parents are desperate to go back, but it is just not possible at the moment.  “I don’t think we will change much once we can gather again, but perhaps parents have realised how much the kids missed playgroup and how much harder it is to come up with an interesting craft that keeps them busy each week.  On a positive note, it was really lovely seeing older siblings, who would usually be at school, join sessions when they were at home in lockdown”.

Gordon Pymble Uniting Church runs five sessions weekly during the NSW school terms, between their two locations.

To find out more about the playgroups, activities, dates, bookings and fees, go their website.

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