The Power of Playgroups

Playgroups have fallen out of favour in the UK in recent decades – they no longer appear to be seen as a valued place for early education for a number of reasons – the ‘schoolification’ of early childhood education has led to a rapid devaluation in the power of play. In the UK, the diversion of most funding for early years provision in to private childcare of has also led many to believe that ‘real learning’ only happens at private nurseries and pre-schools, when this really isn’t the case.  At Little Gulls we are proud to provide playgroups – groups for parent/carers and children to learn and be together – and here’s why:

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Learning  – Our parent and child groups are run by early years, outdoor learning and Forest School professionals. I can happily provide multiple curriculum-linked learning outcomes for every single activity at the Beach School.

And Play IS learning! Learning through play is beneficial to children as they learn invaluable skills about themselves and their environment, that often cannot be taught in a classroom. Play is a precious process of exploration and  using these during play allows children to understand the world around them,  becoming aware of their capabilities, limits and teaches perseverance. Play produces self-esteem and confidence and it is children who have these skills that have the fewest problems when starting school.

A recent meta-analysis study from the University of Southern Australia found that nature play improved children’s levels of physical activity, health-related fitness, motor skills, learning, and social and emotional development. It also showed that nature play may deliver improvements in cognitive and learning outcomes, including children’s levels of attention and concentration, punctuality, constructive play, social play, as well as imaginative and functional play.

There are some wonderful high-quality nursery settings out there providing essential childcare, but it’s important to remember that education doesn’t just happen indoors or in isolation from the family unit.

Here’s a testimonial from one of our families: ” I have huge respect and admiration for the care, thought, authenticity, expertise and knowledge your pour in to Beach School. The crafts and activities are always meaningful and fun. It’s always an inspiring and connective learning experience for the kids and the adults” – Kate


Socialising – Socialisation at our playgroups is real socialisation. Our participants gain interact with multiple age groups and demographics, which is truly enriching. In the early years particularly, child socialisation is also not something that happens in isolation from the family group. In a playgroup setting, children learn to negotiate with others, take turns, share, and resolve conflict. In a playgroup, they can do this while still being supported by their parent or main caregiver which gives them a much-needed safety net to develop at their own pace.

Additionally, parents and carers need to an opportunity to socialise too. There’s a real opportunity for quality playgroups to provide a Site of Mutual Fulfilment. The Beach School is not just for children and we are very proud of this. A term coined by Lucy AitkenRead, a Site of Mutual Fulfilment (SMF) is a place where both the child’s and the parent’s urges and needs are met. They are places where all parties leave with a full cup – they are the vital mental health break in a day for mum or dad.

Lucy believes that enough SMF’s planned throughout each week can make the vital difference in whether we enjoy parenting, or not. Playgroups can fill this role: They provides a great space for social interaction, they allow time for parents to share their experiences, ideas and to support one another, they provides a routine that allows families to gather and interact and they fosters community spirit and assists social networks.

Here are some more words from another one of our families: “What do you think of when you hear the words ‘Beach School’? Do you think of children of all ages mixing together, reading sea stories, drinking tiny drinks they are able to make themselves, creating art works from found objects and digging on the beach? Do you think of adults chatting, sharing stories themselves, drinking hot tea and safely giving the children time to roam free? Because that’s what we did today and it was simple and perfect. Thank you Little Gulls for all that you do.” – Emily

I started Little Gulls because of the impact outdoor playgroups have had on my parenting experience and I hope to extend this to other families. Playgroups are a wonderful source of education and community.  So let’s celebrate the power of the playgroup.

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Published by Rachel Stevens

Nature Lover. Educator. Fascinated with people, spaces and places. Lover of life.

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