I’m very happy to be sharing this guest post with you today as it is from an expat blogger that I follow. Cristin Kelly posts regularly on Between Roots and Wings not just about her life as an American expat in Australia but also on being a new parent in Sydney.

I highly recommend her blog to anyone moving to Sydney from the US, especially if you are moving with young children as Cristin has a lot of advice for newly arriving expat parents.

Meeting Other Expat Parents and Children Through Playgroups in Sydney

Living abroad with young children can sometimes feel so isolating, especially when one parent is a stay-at-home carer. Before children are old enough to start school, establishing friendship networks can be challenging for both expat parents and children. Plus, it’s no secret that toddlers and preschoolers can be exhausting, so outlets for their boundless energy are necessary!

When I became a mother in Sydney in 2013, I was eager to find activities for my young daughter, as well as meet other parents, as we were the first in my primarily expat circle of friends to have children. One of my favorite resources has been our local Playgroups.

As an American, the concept of Playgroups was entirely new to me. Today, I recommend them to anyone with a young child.

What Are Playgroups?

playgroups-art-craftsPlaygroups are gatherings of children, usually age 5 and under, and their carers in a community space where there are toys, interactive play, craft, and activities, and fellowship (and sometimes even coffee) for the adults. The activities tend to be suitable for children in the entire age range, so, for instance, a one year old, three year old, and five year old, will all enjoy playing dress up, just in their own age appropriate way.
Playgroups are typically staffed with volunteers or staff who manage the space and supplies, but carers are expected to supervise their children.

Playgroups typically meet at an established time each week, and most go on break during the school holidays. They range in size greatly, and can be anything from an intimate group in a small church hall to a huge gathering in a large community centre.

The cost may be anywhere from a couple of dollars and a piece of fruit for morning tea to around $10 per session. Some Playgroups will ask you to take up an annual membership if you plan to be a regular attendee, but are generally happy for new visitors to try the group a few times before committing.

Finding a Playgroup in Sydney

playgroups-sydneyPlaygroups NSW is the best place to begin your search for a Playgroup in your area that meets your needs. You can search the directory by postcode, and you may also narrow your search if you’d like to find one with a specific focus like a certain language, religion, or demographic. This will provide you a list of possible Playgroups, along with location, times, and contact information for the organizer.

Not all Playgroups are associated with Playgroups NSW, however. For instance, the North Sydney Community Centre hosts a large playgroup four days a week, but you will not find that in the directory. One of the best ways to find out about other playgroups is to join parenting Facebook groups for your area, such as North Shore Mums, Inner West Mums, Northern Beaches Mums, Hills District Mums, and so forth. Searching the archives or asking in the forum is certain to turn up a number of personal recommendations for the most popular Playgroups in the area.

One unusual and fun Playgroup in the city is the Museum of Contemporary Art’s ArtPlay on Wednesdays, which is most suitable for ages 3 and under. The focus of this Playgroup is art, and it’s a lively, colorful morning with welcoming staff.

Attending Playgroup

playgroup-attendingOnce you’ve found the Playgroups in your area, you may want to consider trying two or three to find one (or more than one) that best fits you and your child. The smaller Playgroups may have fewer toys, but be an easier environment to make friends; while the larger ones offer a lot of activities, but might feel overwhelming. Each Playgroup will have a different vibe.

You will want to dress your child in clothes they can get dirty, and also bring a change of clothes and some wet wipes, as messy play and craft is a staple in many Playgroups.

Sunscreen and a hat are a must – you’ll find packing these is second nature for parents in Australia – Slip, Slap, Slop! You’ll also want to bring a snack for your child and, perhaps, a bit of money if you want coffee. Not all Playgroups offer it, but some will ask a gold coin donation or else order from a nearby cafe.

Finally, enjoy the fun. Most children will find plenty of things to pique their interest and curiosity, and those who are old enough to socialize find Playgroup the perfect place to practice meeting new friends, taking turns, and sharing. For the adults, don’t be afraid to strike up conversations with the other carers. Many of them are also there looking to meet new people and will be more than welcoming. It can be an excellent place for expats to meet other parents and make new friends.

About the Author: Cristin Kelly is an American who has been living in Sydney since 2010. She lives with her husband and young daughter, and blogs about expat life, Sydney, and parenthood at Between Roots and Wings.