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With communities becoming more transient, there is an increasing demand for church-run playgroups that connect families within a safe, engaging environment.
The Lakes Church in Cairns, which has a 24-year history of running playgroups, hosts five weekly Koala Kids sessions attended by around 100 families.
Rosemary Woodward, who has coordinated the program since 2008, has a team of eight helping to make playgroup happen. Families enjoy structured sessions where free play is interspersed with a predictable routine of mat-time, morning tea, craft and music.
Together they have built a community that welcomes all and provides holistic support beyond the playgroup setting, exemplified by actions such as delivering home-cooked meals to new mums. Many of their families transition to programs for older children; a number have come to know God through playgroup and have joined the church.
“People are looking for connections. Often, if they’ve moved to Cairns because of work, they don’t know anyone locally,” Rosemary explained. “Playgroup is the week’s highlight for many. It’s a fun yet safe place that also gives them a break.”
Rosemary and her team have adapted playgroup after COVID-19 restrictions limited its normal operation.
“We always make a special effort to celebrate Mother’s Day - we decorate, hold a special morning tea and give each woman a small gift from our church.
"There is so much expectation surrounding the day – the picture-perfect family breakfast-in-bed surrounded by children holding their hand-drawn cards and gifts … and yet for many families, the reality is wrangling toddlers on little sleep, and surviving on toast and coffee.
“It’s a privilege to acknowledge our incredible mothers – and we weren’t going to let these unusual times stop us this year.”
Instead, every woman enrolled in playgroup received a hand-written, individualised message in a specially designed and printed card. Each envelope also contained two hot drink packets. The cards were hugely popular, and the messages had a big impact.
“I believe God used the timing of our cards to encourage so many mums who, with isolation and homeschooling, were juggling extra loads on top of all the usual ones.
“It was heart-warming to read the ladies messages appreciating their special community, and seeing offers of support at particularly trying times.”
After months of being limited to mainly online interaction, the playgroup is holding playgroup catch-ups attended by half of its members.
"Physically distant but re-connecting: it's different, but we're still together, and it's a wonderful solution for the moment," Rosemary said.
“We pray that our playgroup community continues to reflect the light and share the love and hope of Christ to the families of Cairns.”
Read more stories in the latest edition of Networking.