Start a Playgroup

The CPN has been partnering with churches for 20 years as communities are built through Playgroups. There are hundreds of playgroups run as part of the ministry of the local church in Australia, in every State and in over 9 denominations.

How does your church start its very own Playgroup Ministry?

10 Steps to starting a playgroup or revisiting your purpose of running a playgroup

You may be thinking of starting a Playgroup at your church or wanting to revisit or reboot your purpose of running a Playgroup. These 10 steps will keep you focused on the end goal.

Step 1: Finding a team

Start with 1-2 dedicated playgroup leaders who have a vision for reaching their local community through playgroup and a passion to care for families with young children. Other support crew behind the scenes might include the following – prayer, set up & pack up, pastoral care, bakers or hospitality. Intentional relationships develop when a significant number of Christians including child-free adults are involved in the group. Invite any church families with babies, toddlers and preschool children to consider being part of the playgroup, and help them to see their involvement as part of their Christian ministry.

Step 2: Developing playgroup vision and mission/purpose

Mission & purpose is the WHY that drives the HOW so is super important. What values, impact, atmosphere, focus do you want your playgroup to have? Eg a bush playgroup with a focus on facilitating children connecting with God through nature is going to have a different focus from a multicultural playgroup providing space for adults and children to speak English. Spend time to develop your Playgroup Vision & Mission . Align it to the vision of your church; the church leadership must be involved in this process, along with the playgroup team. Join the Christian Playgroup Network! We can provide you with some more helpful guidelines in developing your Playgroup Vision & Mission. 

Step 3: Choosing the time

Mornings are usually the best time for playgroups to meet, as it suits young families. Choose the day of the week when the church is available and best suits the Christian leaders and volunteer availability. Be aware of other programs running at the church to ensure that there is not a clash or problems with noise, parking or doors left open. Particular care needs to be taken with one-off events, e.g. a funeral. Be aware of other local services – try not to compete Eg Story time at the local library, kinder sessions. Think of factors that impact young families in your area.

Playgroups should meet weekly for no longer than 2 hours. Babies and small children find it hard to cope with more than two hours. You may choose to start off at one hour and build up to two hours. It is easier to increase the time at playgroup than to reduce the time. If moving from one to two playgroup sessions, consider running two sessions on the same morning, one after another, e.g., the first one could meet from 9:30am – 11:00am sharing morning tea together. The second group could meet 11:30am – 1:00pm sharing lunch together. If you need to set up & pack away each week, can you piggy back on a service or other church program that can offer a few volunteers to move chairs / put away toys, etc  

Step 4: Choosing the place to meet

Backing on from mission & purpose – do you want to meet at your church or in a local community space? Usually there will be a space in your church that you can use. Consider safety issues and the indoor and/or outdoor space.  Most likely it is a space that will also be used for other purposes at different times through the week, so there may need to be some negotiation on how to make sure it is safe and suitable for playgroup. 

Do a safety audit of your venue. Check out this helpful ‘Health & Safety Checklist’ for your Playgroup. Wherever you choose your venue, make sure that you leave the venue as you found it. Establish a cleaning roster and a “before you leave” checklist if you are sharing the space with others.

Step 5: Choosing activities

A quality play based program is very important that reflects the ages and stages of the children that are part of your group . You want the children to enjoy coming to playgroup!! Play activities that work well one year may not necessarily work the next year with children of different ages & stages.

Relationships are the key. Design a flexible program that allows plenty of time for relationships to form. We want the playgroup space to be a space for all to feel welcome. Enjoy celebrating together Christian celebrations at Easter and Christmas time. As well as valuing the different parenting roles on Mothers and Fathers day. 

Remember that you are doing playgroup for the adults too. Eg celebrate adult birthdays and new baby arrivals with a  family gift bag that families can contribute to if they like! Offer support in times of grief as well.

There are Program & Activity Ideas in the Members Only section of this website under the ‘Playgroup Leaders’ section. 

 Step 6: Equipment

Provide toddler-size tables and chairs. This is a health and safety issue as toddlers can hurt themselves by falling off adult-size chairs and tables. Source a range of good quality toys from local Op shops, department stores, social media platforms, friends , other families or a well established playgroup near you that may be happy to donate some toys. Keep an inventory of all equipment for insurance purposes. If other ministries in the church share the equipment, make sure everyone knows who owns the equipment and reach an agreement on where and how equipment is stored & maintained. Check out this helpful toy and equipment guide  ‘Playgroup Toys & Equipment’ 

Step 7: Adult responsibilities

Christian playgroups are facilitated by a leader that may be paid or volunteer. This means that Christians from the church take on the role of leadership within the playgroup and make decisions concerning the running of the playgroup and plan the program. Overall responsibility of the playgroup rests with the playgroup leaders and the church, however each family attending playgroup should feel welcome and part of the group. It is important everyone feel a sense of ownership of the playgroup. It may be helpful to delegate tasks and draw up a roster so families will feel more involved in playgroup. Eg morning tea roster, clean up roster. Remember playgroup is a time for babies, toddlers and preschoolers and their parents or carers to bond. Do not let cleaning and packing away interfere with the families bonding experience.

Playgroup is not legislated but the CPN encourages best practice that might include

  • A Family registration form to be completed annually for all families participating in the playgroup 
  • Attendance records ​
  • Agreed behaviour for children and families in Playgroup information
  • A Child safe policy & other Child Safe Standards requirements of volunteers at Playgroup 
  • Accident / illness forms to complete as needed 

Church leaders are not responsible for the supervision of children at playgroup. It should be made clear that children are the responsibility of the person who brings the child.

Step 8: Insurance

In most cases, your church will have insurance that will cover the playgroup. If you are not sure , check with your church. If you are meeting offsite check your insurance cover with your church. Remember, for insurance purposes, it is important to keep an inventory of all equipment such as tables, chairs and play equipment. It is also important to keep a record of accidents and incidents.

 Step 9: What will it cost?

Playgroup leaders & the church leadership need to determine the fees for families attending playgroup. Do some research – check out what is offered in your local area. Try to keep playgroup low cost and inclusive for ALL families. If you are able, offer fee support from the church as an option for families that need it. Costs of running a playgroup to consider could include consumables (paints, paper, gluesticks, other craft supplies), toys & equipment, memberships ( eg CPN , state Playgroup Associations) , adult morning tea supplies, gifts for children & adults (birthdays & Christmas / Easter and Mothers & Fathers Day )

Some churches allocate a budget to their playgroup- this helps keep track of how the playgroup fees are spent. A budget is determined during the initial setup period and is reviewed regularly. Some of the payment options currently being used by playgroups are:

  • families pay a set amount weekly eg $5 per week 
  • families pay a set amount each term eg $30 – check the fees for playgroup in your local area
  • families pay a yearly fee – often includes a 10% discount 
  • families are offered a concession discount for term fees​

Step 10: Ready to start

Send out invitations to any young families your church has had contact within the past year. Ask your church people to invite families they know that live locally. Advertise through the local council, Kindergarten, Maternal and Child Health Centre, local library, your state Playgroup Association (join them for great playgroup information and to be on their ‘Find a Playgroup’ list).  Ask your church to provide prayer support. Step out and get started!