Play to Connect team adapts program to support remote communities during COVID
Challenging times often have the effect of inspiring teams of all sorts, including those in early childhood education and care (ECEC), to adopt the military adage of “improvise, adapt, overcome”.
This has certainly been the case for the Menzies School of Health Research Play to Connect team, who work with parents and children aged between three and seven to learn about child development through participation in creative child-led play.
Typically during the interactive sessions, parents sit with their children and together they choose what they want to do: paint, build or play an interactive game. The parent then practices special skills for play: how to let the child lead, how to listen, to watch and give positive feedback.
Leading these sessions in the face of COVID-19 travel restrictions presents some challenges, especially in remote communities such as Wurrumiyanga in the Tiwi Islands. Those who would typically lead the sessions are now unable to travel to the communities they are supporting, leaving them with no option other than to adapt their training plans so local staff are able to deliver the program through home visits, with remote support from the Darwin office.
Play to Connect program co-ordinator Carolin Stock said that following collaborative discussions with Tiwi staff members, Maggie and Aileen, the team has adapted the delivery model to meet current National Public Health pandemic guidelines to allow them to continuously support parents in Wurrumiyanga.
Maggie and Aileen offer unique insights to those parents participating, as they have both been participants in the program in the past, allowing them to not only connect with the participants, but also to build the capacity of the local community, providing resources and support to parents and families who are now caring for their children at home under the current restrictions.
Ms Stock said the challenges of adapting to “the uncertainties and operational hurdles” resulting from COVID-19 restrictions has been “an insightful learning experience” one which highlights the importance of innovative teamwork.
Maggie and Aileen’s visits have received positive feedback from the families involved in the project about the adapted delivery model and the importance of family programs continuing to happen at this time.
“Despite the cancellation of the group programs, families have expressed pleasure that the home visits are occurring and that there is recognition of feelings of loneliness and confusion during this difficult time. For them, the support of the local Play to Connect team is a helpful and needed initiative,” Ms Stock explained.
The Play to Connect program was developed in response to the evaluation findings and experiences drawn from over 11 years of the delivery of the Let’s Start program.
Funding for Play to Connect is provided by Red Cross, Communities for Children strategy. Find out more about Play to Connect here.