The sound of kids having fun:  that’s the first sign for visitors that the playgroup program for refugee children is a hit.  The second sign is the intensity of the play:  whether they are squeezing playdough through tubes, hammering at the kids’ size workbench, or cutting up construction paper at the craft table, these children are deeply involved with the work of being young children.  After a quick cleanup, they participate with equal energy in the songs and games of a lively circle time.

This hotel meeting room has probably seen more powerpoint presentations than playdough, but with kids’ art on the walls, and toys and crafts available, Ottawa Community Health Centres (CHCs) and their partners have transformed the space into another stepping stone on the path to integration for Ottawa’s Syrian refugees.

Improved language and social skills, and reduced isolation are benefits of the playgroup program, which is run by Early Childhood Development professionals.  Ottawa CHCs, along with Mothercraft Ottawa’s Ontario Early Years Centre and Dovercourt Recreation Association are working with CCI staff to schedule playgroups in the hotels where Government Assisted Refugees are temporarily housed.  The playgroups also offer an opportunity for the partners to monitor the health status of young refugee children.

There are benefits for parents as well. The program includes health promoters, outreach workers, and interpreters, who use the playgroup connection to provide parents with information in their language about community resources that they can access now, and once they have settled in permanent homes.