How to start a playgroup

Published on Wednesday, 10 April 2019
Last updated on Monday, 16 November 2020

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Playgroups provide a fun and friendly environment for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, parents and other care-givers to interact. With a local focus and an informal feel, they're a great way for families to connect with one another as little ones learn, interact and play.

There are many playgroups already operating around the country – including those with a cultural, language or philosophical approach – but if you're looking for one closer to home or closer to your heart, then it is possible to establish a quality playgroup in your community.

What is the law around playgroups?

A playgroup is fast to set up, flexible and has less regulatory requirements than other early childhood education (ECE) options, but this parent-led service does come with some legal caveats.

The Education Act 1989 defines a playgroup as 'a group that meets on a regular basis to facilitate children's play' and The Act stipulates that no child can attend for more than four hours a day and requires a high ratio of parents and care-givers present while children are learning.

In contrast to other ECE services, like early childhood education and care centres and kindergartens, playgroups don't need to be licensed. However, they do need to be certificated to receive government funding and support, meaning certification is optional, but beneficial.

What should parents consider when setting up a new playgroup?

There are different reasons for parents wanting to establish new playgroups, and whether you're keen to start a Montessori playgroup, a NgāPuna Kōhungahunga Māori language playgroup, or just need one closer to your rural property, the first step is to contact the Ministry of Education. They will identify playgroups already operating in your area, and staff will ask why you want to set up the playgroup and what you hope to achieve.

If you choose to create a new playgroup, rather than joining an existing one, then here are seven things you’ll need to consider:

  1. Who is going to run the playgroup?

    As a parent-led service, you need an ongoing commitment from mums and dads who are keen to be involved in the daily operation and overall management of the playgroup. For instance, which parents will take responsibility for the learning environment, liaise with Government and look after the finances?
  2. Where will the playgroup be held?

    Certificated playgroups must operate from venues that can be used by other community groups, so some well-located, affordable and accessible options are schools, church buildings, community halls or environments shared with playcentres or kindergartens.

    The premises must be safe and comfortable, with good facilities and experiences on offer, so think about the appropriateness of the venue's toilets, food prep areas, heating and ventilation, outdoor areas, parking/commute options and hours of availability.
  3. What equipment will the playgroup have access to?

    Whether this is brought from home or donated by others, the Ministry of Education says the equipment should be fun, educational, appealing and safe for children, that is, non-swallowable, durable and hygienic.

    Equipment should be carefully selected so that it provides new opportunities and challenges, and can be used in different and imaginative ways, depending on children's individual interests.
  4. Where will the equipment be stored?

    It's convenient to store things like toys and play mats on-site, but you'll need to consider the practicalities and space needs of your new playgroup before loading up on gear.
  5. What will children learn?

    According to the Government, 'The day-to-day activities, experiences, events, routines, rituals, resources, opportunities and interactions that occur in [a certificated] playgroup should reflect and promote the principles and strands of Te Whāriki, but the specific nature of these will be decided on by the children and families in the playgroup.' So, think about what the new playgroup will offer, such as creative, physically active, constructive, dramatic and exploratory play.
  6. What costs will there be?

    Although playgroups aren't too pricey to set up, it's important that you work out how much money is needed to start and run the playgroup. Budget for things like rental and bond, play equipment and art materials, floor coverings, electricity and first aid supplies. Then consider how these costs will be covered, e.g. through Government funding upon certification, regular parental contributions or community donations/fund-raising.

    You can read more about playgroup funding and special grants here, and keep in mind that you'll need to set up a playgroup bank account to receive any Government money.
  7. What is the certification process?

    Assuming that you want to become a certificated playgroup, you’ll need to contact your Local Ministry Office and get their help in starting the process. First, you'll fill out an application form, then the Ministry will visit your playgroup to assess whether it meets the standards and certification criteria around curriculum, premises and facilities, health and safety, management and administration and ratios.

If all this sounds a bit daunting, don't worry. Your local Ministry of Education office will provide information and support from the get-go, and there are lots of parents who've successfully started and run playgroups.

The end result is that playgroups are a great way to engage, educate and entertain under-fives, while providing support and a sense of community for parents. So, get ready and get set for a great playgroup experience!

Reference and further reading

Ministry of Education – Establishing a Certificated Playgroup – An Overview of Playcentres and Playgroups

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