Auckland, New Zealand

Language and Learning at Play

Safari Multicultural Playgroup

September 30, 2014

Multicultural playgroup program helps mothers and their children feel at home and get 'school-ready'

300x200 Lutharsiny and her husband came to New Zealand from Sri Lanka in 2010. Their two children were born here. But she says, “Home is very hard, looking after children very hard.”

Leaving home for work in another country is an exciting prospect. But it can also be daunting – especially for families who must make sense of a foreign world on their own, often with little command of English.

So discovering the Safari Multicultural Playgroup in Lynfield was a huge relief for Lutharsiny. The playgroup helped make the transition into a new community easier. “Safari helps me meet friends. Talk English, ” she says. “The van picks me up. Nice people. English class. Children play [with] toys. I feel very happy.”

The Safari program provides an informal supportive environment for migrant and refugee mothers and children. They bond over shared experiences while gaining skills and confidence in English, learning about early childhood sducation and schooling in New Zealand.

Long-term implications

The project is one of five administered under a partnership between Auckland Regional Migrant Services (ARMS) and Auckland Refugee Community Coalition (ARCC). It arose from their mutual concern about the lack of access and attendance by refugee and migrant children in early childhood education and the potential long-term implications for these children and their mothers if they were not assisted to become “school ready.”

Robyn Langford, a paid coordinator, leads the Safari program along with a project assistant, ARMS volunteers and a driver. She says Safari supports families with barriers such as little knowledge of English and lack of access to transport. There are English classes for mothers and other learning opportunities related to positive parenting, child development, health workshops and the opportunity to create pathways for mums.

Safari runs three mornings a week at the Lynfield Recreation and Youth Centre in a central Auckland area with a diverse population. Mothers from 10 different cultural backgrounds attend. There are 45 families enrolled at the playgroup with 57 children actively participating. Around10 to 20 children and 15 mums attend each session.

The playgroup environment is based on New Zealand’s Te Whairiki early childhood curriculum, a framework for providing early learning and development within a socio-cultural context. It emphasizes learning partnership between kaiako/teachers, parents and whanau/families.

Support activities

Mothers and children participate in a range of learning and play activities assisted by organizations like the Auckland City Art Gallery and local libraries.

The gallery’s outreach programme is a regular, art-focused program for mothers only. Facilitator Andrea Gaskin has developed workshops that explore identity with a strong emphasis on language to support the work of Safari’s English teachers who attend the workshops along with the mothers.

Denise van Kempen, an English teacher, says the women who attend the sessions are always keen and excited to discover what they’re going to learn. “They learn a new technique each time. For some, it is their first time to express themselves through art. They also learn English as the art teacher often asks the women to match descriptive words to pictures and objects.”

Safari mums are also introduced to parent support agencies and health services. Doreen Wakefield, the central Auckland HIPPY (Home Interaction Programme for Parents and Youngsters) coordinator visited in February. This home-based programme supports parents in becoming actively involved in their four and five year olds’ learning. Parents and children work together for 15 minutes a day with storybooks, puzzles and learning games that help children become successful learners at school. Several mums are keen to join when their children become eligible at four years.


The Safari programme is now running at capacity and could be expanded if more funds are made available.

Mother’s speak enthusiastically about the ways it has helped them. Some have taken up opportunities to become volunteers, home educators, participated in more advanced English training, enrolled in a certificate in Early Childhood Education and food handling certificate courses. There’s also been the opportunity to be involved in a social enterprise project.

Due to the programme’s success, it has been replicated in Massey East which is also an area with a high migrant population. While the central Safari group has a diverse ethnic mix, in Massey East, families are mainly Burmese.

Making it Work for You:

  • Flexibility to working with limited resources in a multi-cultural context is important
  • Make sure the desired outcomes of the playgroup is fully understood by the mothers
  • Eliminate barriers like lack of transport and language skills to make a program accessible
  • Staff resourcing and expertise are critical for maximising learning by mothers while offering an effective playgroup experience for their children
  • Explore community and educational resources available in your area that could feed into a playgroup programme to assist immigrant and refugee families
  • Fun activities enhance interaction and English language skills while mothers and their children get “school ready”

For this Good Idea contact:

Mary Dawson, Auckland Regional Migrant Services
532 Mt Albert Road
Three Kings Plaza
Auckland, New Zealand,
09 625 3091