Rugby league tackles early learning with ease

Issue: Volume 96, Number 13

Posted: 24 July 2017
Reference #: 1H9deY

The More Than Just a Game partnership is working through rugby league to bring a wider set of public services, including early childhood education, to South Auckland communities.

A joint initiative is providing a safe space for families through a sport loved by many New Zealanders.

The More Than Just a Game project kicked off in late 2014, bringing together rugby league and public services in recognition of the fact that people respond better to messages when they come from their own communities.

One aspect of the project is the playgroups being set up in rugby league clubrooms. These started with three in South Auckland, targeting Māori and Pacific Island children who weren’t attending early childhood education. The number of playgroups has now increased to 16 and
New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) is planning to start up another two by the end of 2017.

Families with children aged 0–5 years are now welcome in the rugby league clubrooms and are encouraged to stay with the clubs until premiere level.

The More Than Just a Game project connects NZRL with four government agencies: the Ministry of Education, Accident Compensation Corporation, the Health Promotion Agency, and the Ministry of Social Development.

A safe and comfortable environment

NZRL’s General Manager Community
Jacob Cameron says the programme has seen very positive results.

“It’s been a fascinating journey and the key driver for the partnership was the playgroups’ programme with the Ministry of Education.

“It was important to put these children into a safe and comfortable environment like the rugby league clubs that they’re used to, and then to give them curriculum-based activities to ensure that they are learning, socialising and being supported,” he says.

“About five of our playgroups have become independent, leading playgroups where they now operate independently of NZRL, which is great.”

Other benefits

NZRL National Playgroup Manager Marissa Holland says the benefits are wide-reaching.

“Before incorporating playgroups, league clubs had bars and a different type of atmosphere but now, because of playgroups, they have automatically become much more family- friendly. It’s a nice reminder to club members that sport is about more than just a game.

“It’s good for rugby league to welcome families into their clubrooms because the number of players turning up for training improves, their families feel more involved and their children all have access to some form of early learning before they get to school,” she says.

Story Time Foundation donates books for the children and promotes the importance of parents reading to their children, and sports trusts also do activities with the children at the clubrooms.

Mums at the playgroups have expressed interest in learning more about topics such as breastfeeding and nutrition, so NZRL has invited relevant organisations to the clubrooms, including Plunket, Healthy Families, and the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation to provide this information.

These learning experiences are possible because of the support of the More Than Just a Game partnership.

“A number of health agencies are now referring families to the playgroups for improved education or exercise outcomes. This has been huge for rugby league clubs because providers are able to work with these families while the playgroups are running,” says Marissa.

Club committees are also seeing opportunities for clubrooms to host other activities such as homework groups for teenagers, and are looking at connecting with other social and community organisations to operate programmes throughout the day.

Communities see clubrooms as safe areas they can go for family and community bonding and for educational purposes, plus they can access the playgrounds outside the clubrooms. One of this year’s highlights was NZRL being one of three finalists in the Innovation Excellence category of the 2017 New Zealand Sport and Recreation Awards.

“This was recognition for all the community volunteers that have worked so hard to make More Than Just a Game a success,” says Jacob.

Jacob and Marissa will continue to work with community playgroups to push for that independence so the club committees run themselves with minimal support, and NZRL can concentrate on continuing to grow the programme. They hope the programme will continue to be recognised as it strives to improve education, health and wellbeing outcomes for children and whānau in their rugby league communities. This is in line with one of the key outcomes of the partnership: a delivery model that enables communities to lead their own development, in their own way, at their own pace and place.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 6:00 am, 24 July 2017

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