26 November 2022

Optimism as tots trickle back to Mandarin playgroup

Children have Mandarin and English activities at the playgroup. Picture: St Mark’s Templestowe.

Jenan Taylor

3 June 2022

Children are returning to a church’s bilingual playgroup, but pre-COVID participant numbers are still out of reach.

A popular playgroup for Mandarin-speaking children has resumed as a number of families returned to take advantage of the bilingual activities on offer.

But organisers at St Mark’s Templestowe and its partner St Timothy’s Bulleen say demand is still not what it was, and that families remain wary of COVID 19 risks.

St Mark’s vicar the Reverend Ben Wong said there had been lengthy waiting lists for access to the playgroup up until the start of the pandemic.

Mr Wong said the group has been running for seven years and had initially started as a way to draw more people to the church.

Leaders had realised that although there were several Mandarin-speaking migrants in the area, there was very little if anything in the way of services for their children, he said.

Mr Wong said St Mark’s and St Timothy’s had already catered to Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking families, but the attendance numbers had not been ideal.

There were other churches in the neighbourhood offering playgroups, but there was nothing for the area’s large Chinese community, Mr Wong said.

“In many Chinese families, the grandparents look after the kids. So, they don’t speak much English, or not too well,” Mr Wong said.

They realised that a bilingual playgroup that offered toddlers both Mandarin and English would be a drawcard.

Up until the COVID lockdowns the playgroup had up to 15 children and was run once a week, Mr Wong said.

He said it had also drawn some of the families to the Anglican church services, and a few people who previously were not Christians had even turned to the faith.

Playgroup volunteer Diane Wong said the children had a range of activities to keep them engaged.

These include handicrafts and dancing, and storytime with singing and reading in both Mandarin and English, Ms Wong said.

She said the playgroup numbers were gradually picking up again from word-of-mouth referrals.

Ms Wong said she was optimistic about that.

Some mothers who had been there when the group began, Ms Wong said, were now starting to bring their second and third babies to the group.

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