When Louise Woo moved to Ryde (Sydney, NSW) two years ago, one of the first things she started looking for was playgroups that she and her young children could attend. Having previously lived in inner-west Sydney, Louise and her kids had enjoyed attending daily activities and story-time sessions. To her disappointment, there didn’t seem to be any free quality activities for her kids in Ryde.
“I was told that I had to join a waitlist or be prepared to pay,” said Louise. “And so I thought, Why not start a playgroup?”
Louise had personal reasons for wanting to start a playgroup.
“When I had my first child in 2015, I didn’t know anyone,” she said. “My family and friends were in the United States. Sleep deprivation resulted in post-natal depression. It was one of the loneliest experiences of my life and it took me more than two years to recover. I wanted my local community to know that there was a village available for them.”
Louise decided that the playgroup would be called Bubs and Books and aimed at children aged 0 to 5 years old. It would be focused on fostering a love for reading.
“When I had my first child, we didn’t have any toys for him—we just went to libraries—and now he just loves books,” she explained. “I thought it would be great to have a playgroup that didn’t use typical commercial books, but focused on books that promoted good values and good behaviour.”
She talked to her church pastor and asked how they could go about starting this. He advised her to write up a proposal and talk to the church leaders about it.
“My church [Ryde Seventh-day Adventist Church] were really supportive,” said Louise. “They saw it as a wonderful opportunity to help the community.”
The proposal was written, the budget was approved and another mum, Leslie, volunteered to help Louise run the playgroup.
Shortly before the Bubs and Books playgroup was ready to meet in person however, COVID-19 hit, forcing Louise and Leslie to change their plans—and having experience as moderators of the Mums At The Table Facebook group brought with it some benefits.
Mums At The Table, an initiative of Adventist Media, aims to support mums in their parenting journey through digital content. It also partners with local churches and church members to connect with mums in the local community via Facebook groups and in-person meet-ups.
As volunteer moderators for the Mums At The Table Facebook group, an online community of almost 9000 mums, Louise and Leslie knew that private Facebook groups was a good way to build up relationships with the local families before meeting them.
“I created a Facebook group for Bubs and Books and we advertised in the local mums’ Facebook groups that Leslie and I were already part of. Leslie and I also invited mums that we met in the park or at other events,” said Louise.
“The admins of Mums At The Table gave us great insights on how to build our group. We began asking people to introduce themselves, writing welcome posts each week and trying to help people feel like they were part of a community. We also began recording live videos of people reading books and noticed that they were getting views.”
By the time restrictions had eased and the Bubs and Books playgroup was ready to meet in person, eight families had registered for the first Friday morning session.
“Including kids, we knew that could potentially be too many people in one session [due to COVID-19 restrictions],” said Louise. “We decided to do a trial run of two sessions. We would have the first session from 9:30am to 10:30am, take half an hour to sanitise and clean up in between, and then run the second session from 11:00am to 12pm.”
It didn’t take long for their playgroup to grow—regular attendees began spreading the word. With an average of at least one new family joining each session, Louise and Leslie have now started their second term and have at least 10 families from the community attending their playgroup every week.
And the partnership with Mums At The Table has also bore fruit.
“We’ve had at least three mums come to our playgroup through Mums At The Table and they all attend regularly,” said Louise. “They have also attended the social picnics run for our kids’ Sabbath school.”
“We have the nicest mums in our group,” added Louise. “Everybody there is lovely and welcoming of each other. Leslie and I love connecting with people and making them feel comfortable.”
Louise recommends local playgroups as a great opportunity for churches to get to know and help out their communities. Churches or church members looking to connect with mums in their local area are also welcome to contact Mums At The Table at hello@MumsAtTheTable.com or visit www.facebook.com/groups/MumsAtTheTable.