In an initiative just announced by Playgroups NSW, memberships to the new infant-focused playgroup network, Play Baby, will be free for anyone with a baby under a year old. It's a push to create more connected communities and provide targeted quality play experiences for infants.
CEO of Playgroups NSW, Karen Bevan, says that "Babies are never too young to start reaping the rewards of play, interaction and socialisation. That's what playgroup is all about," which is something Sydney mum Annette Ruhotas discovered when she attended a local playgroup when her first child was 8 weeks old, continuing participation with her now 1-year-old son.
"Playgroup exposes babies and other young children to new experiences, as well as familiar patterns and activities which help their development," she says. And the benefits are even more far-reaching than those experienced by the baby, who is receiving valuable learning experiences in the first three years of his or her brain development.
The World Health Organisation identifies social support as one of the key factors of human well being, citing, "Belonging to a social network of communication and mutual obligation makes people feel cared for, loved, esteemed and valued." With mothers (and partners) often experiencing isolation and a sense of loss of their lives before baby, social interaction with people going through similar challenges can be key to allaying fears, debriefing and forming valuable social connections.
J.R. Bloom, who wrote 'The relationship of social support and health' in the Social Science Medicine journal, stated in a 1990 study (cited here), that, "It is through social support that individuals gain information, see new role models and are encouraged by others." Ruhotas agrees.
"You can feel really bewildered in those first months and to go to a baby play group can be key to some peace of mind. Sharing experiences with other parents, you can realise that your baby's actions or inactions are pretty normal." It's much harder to do that in isolation.
With the Play Baby initiative being a win for both babies and their carers, Playgroup NSW membership - which is usually $39 per year - is now free for anyone with a baby under 12 months. Existing members can renew for free if they have a baby under one.
See the Play Baby website to apply online and locate a group near you in NSW.