Council research shows that one aspect of P&Cs that parents most value is the chance to meet other parents, to make connections, share stories and the challenges of parenting. Many P&Cs are now supporting these interactions more broadly by organising playdates on school grounds.
While the kids are busy, there is time to meet new people and share experience. It works well for those feeling isolated or unable to participate in more formal activities. It also helps parents feel comfortable in the school, meet staff in a relaxed moment, and feel part of the community — building social capital with all its benefits.
Earlier this year, Curtin Primary School’s P&C ran some Mighty Big Playdates.
“We usually have a big Welcome BBQ at the beginning of the year, for dinner on a Friday evening so the whole family can come,” says Sally Hawkins, P&C President at Curtin. “It’s a great chance for everyone to meet up, feel part of the school, meet the teachers and interact with other families.”
“But coming out of COVID restrictions, we needed something with fewer people and no queuing. It became Friday afternoon playdates.”
The P&C put on three events during first term, each from 3:15-5pm. One was for families with kids in Preschool and Kindergarten, the next for those in years 1 and 2 and finally, a seniors event.
“They were a great success,” Sally reports, “well attended, especially the junior ones, and everyone had a great time. It’s about creating an opportunity for parents to meet one another – it’s providing that space.”
“Our Treasurer, Ken Mansell, organised some games which gave some structure to the first part of the afternoon – balancing, races, tug-of-war, including parents versus kids! We encouraged people to bring afternoon tea and a picnic rug and the P&C gave all the kids and their siblings a frozen fruit juice tube and packet of chips.”
“The seniors event didn’t work quite as well – some kids just came and grabbed food and then left. Fewer parents came.”
“The Principal is very supportive and keen for them to continue, but compared to just one Welcome BBQ, the three events were more time consuming, but less work,” Sally says. “I think that the welcome BBQ also does a better job of connecting up families. In most cases, only one parent came to the playdate, whereas with the BBQ, we get whole families coming after work.”
“The last couple of years the Welcome BBQs have been really well attended. We have hired a jumping castle, teachers come along as well.”
In previous years the P&C has had teachers help parents identify other families in their year group by handing out coloured stickers for the parents to wear.
“The stickers help identify people with kids in the same year group,” Sally explains. “Both events are a great way to make those connections. They also make the P&C more visible right from the beginning of the year. It’s an opportunity for us to build some rapport and support from more parents for what we do throughout the year.”
Meanwhile, at Duffy Primary School, the P&C organises Cuppa & a Yarn — a school-wide event in the preschool playground. It started as a request from the preschool teacher and school executive in late 2019, as Melissa Austen, Duffy P&C’s Preschool Representative explained.
“The preschool teacher, Miss Kellie, noticed that some families wanted to let their children play in the preschool playground after school and thought she could use to encourage community engagement. The school executive agreed and asked the P&C to help.”
“Cuppa & a Yarn has been running since then as a collaborative event with the preschool staff, P-2 executive and the P&C. It’s held on Wednesdays once or twice each term,” she said. “The Preschool teachers are always there, and often an executive teacher as well. The staff prepare the space and the P&C provide tea and coffee.”
“As the preschool rep, it’s a good opportunity to have a chat with the teachers and parents to share ideas and see what people might need,” explained Melissa, who is grateful to preschool staff for leading the way.
“The event is open to all Duffy Primary families, not just preschool families. The older children enjoy the opportunity to return to the preschool playground, and to visit the preschool staff. It's also a good opportunity to familiarise younger children with the playground and school grounds. When my middle child started preschool this year, there were no issues with him settling into preschool life because he already felt like it was a safe place and that he was part of the Duffy community.”
“It’s been a great way for families that are new to the school to connect with their children’s friends and families,” said Melissa. “People can find out more about the school, the P&C and local community in a relaxed way. They are often little things, but they add up to make your experience at the school more positive, where you really feel like part of the school community.”