Play as a context for relationships and learning in universal group postnatal parenting education in Aotearoa New Zealand
Type of content
The role of parenting in influencing life outcomes for children is significant, with parent- child relationships a key driver of development in the early years. The transition to parenthood in the postnatal period (birth to 1 year) can be a particularly vulnerable time for parents and coincides with a critical phase of growth and development for infants. Supporting and guiding parents with parenting education in this first year can be seen as a preventative intervention that can shape the futures of children and their families. This research focuses on universal level parenting programmes, accessible to all families in Aotearoa New Zealand. Of interest was how parent-child participation in play was being used within programmes where parents and their children attended together. The use of play to enhance learning and relationships is well-evidenced, with play being central to early education curriculum and practice, and our understanding of early childhood development. This qualitative study sought to examine the conceptualisation, implementation, and effectiveness of parent-child participation in play by collecting and analysing the perspectives of facilitators working in universal group postnatal parenting education in Aotearoa New Zealand. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven experienced facilitators representing four different service providers – Whānau Āwhina Plunket (PEPE); Parents Centre Aotearoa (Baby and You/Moving and Munching); The Parenting Place (Space), and Playcentre Aotearoa New Zealand (Babies Can Play). The research findings showed facilitators had a strong shared conceptualisation of play which emphasised independent exploration, natural and familiar resources, and a child-centred approach to play as learning. Facilitator’s beliefs and values were reflected in the strategies and play environments utilised. Participation in play was seen by facilitators as an effective and valuable part of the parent education programmes that required flexibility and responsiveness to the needs of parents and infants. Some challenges were identified by facilitators in terms of curriculum delivery and adult learner engagement. This research provides evidence of play as an existing and common component of universal group postnatal parenting education in Aotearoa New Zealand with potential benefits for parents, young children, and their communities.