Immigration

Refugee-friendly playgroups take fear out of kindergarten

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Specialised bilingual playgroups are helping refugee families launch into the education system.

A child's first day at kindergarten is a milestone moment but the transition can be emotionally and socially challenging, particularly for children from refugee backgrounds.

Playgroups catering for new migrant arrivals are helping them ease into the education system.

Burmese Chin refugee Oi Deung arrived in Australia six months ago and starts four-year old kindy in February.

Her family speak very little English, but are looking forward to the next momentous stage in their settlement.

"I'm happy. Also my child is very happy," said Oi's mother Ling Ling. "We are excited about it."

Specialised playgroups smooth entry to kindergarten

The family have been attending a cultural and linguistic specific playgroup at Braybrook in Melbourne's west that helps new arrivals prepare for kindergarten.

Organisers VICSEG run 30 such groups, supporting families from Burmese, Arabic, Persian, Vietnamese and Hindi-speaking communities among others.

"Some families may not have actually been to school themselves, so the concept of playschool and kindergarten are quite foreign to them," said playgroup co-ordinator Jackie McWilliam.

"So it is really useful to start off in a playgroup setting so that they can learn from others about what the education system in Australia looks like."

Community elder and pastor Nguri attends the playgroup, acting as a bi-cultural family mentor.

She says the playgroup offers new arrivals a taste of what is to come without being intimidating.



"No-one will dare to go to multicultural playgroup because when you do not speak English then everything is so frightening," she said.

Practical issues ranging from how to enrol, through to what to pack in a lunchbox are covered.



Families get to practise English and learn about the routine at kindergarten.

"Like in the playgroup at singing time we must all come together, or at playtime you play. And when there is food time we all sit and eat," said Nguri

'Parents and children learning together'

Playgroup Australia is the national peak and representative body for playgroups.

General Manager Vivenne Cunningham-Smith says playgroup is one of the only platforms in the zero to three age group that gets parents and children learning together.

"Parents gain confidence. They gain an understanding of why play is so important for their children," she said.

"But they are also in relationship with their children in a really positive way. And the evidence is clear that that is all children need as the foundation for successful lifelong learning."

With each new wave of refugees, demand for cultural and linguistic specific playgroups increases.

In 2016, services are expecting a surge in demand from families from Syria and Iraq.

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