Defining Therapeutic Playgroups: Key Principles of Therapeutic Playgroups from the Perspective of Professionals

  • Jodie ArmstrongEmail author
  • Catherine Elliott
  • John Wray
  • Emma Davidson
  • Joanne Mizen
  • Sonya Girdler
Original Paper



Therapeutic playgroups provide a unique service for children with developmental delays and disabilities and their families, delivering tailored play-based therapy while facilitating parent support and community connections. Despite the prevalence of playgroups within the disability sector there is a paucity of research defining the key principles of therapeutic playgroups and their perceived benefits. Taking the perspectives of early intervention professionals this study sought to provide a definition of therapeutic playgroups and identify the “active ingredients” of therapeutic playgroups for children with developmental delays and disabilities.


Focus group methodology was used to gather perspectives of 40 professionals with experience facilitating playgroups for children with developmental delays and/or disabilities and their families.


Findings highlighted the complex nature of therapeutic playgroups which require an interplay of five “active ingredients” to be perceived as beneficial: facilitator and participant characteristics; playgroup structural characteristics, information provision, administration and logistical considerations.


Therapeutic playgroups have distinct practice principles that distinguish them from other playgroups and therapeutic models for children with delays and disabilities and their families. This paper provides a definition of therapeutic playgroups, outlining the core practice principles for therapeutic playgroups, an essential step in developing and evaluating the effectiveness of therapeutic playgroups.


Playgroups Therapeutic playgroups Qualitative research Preschool children Family functioning and support 


Author Contributions

J.A.: designed and executed the study, collected data and assisted in analysing data, and wrote the manuscript. C.E.: collaborated in study design, participant recruitment, and editing the manuscript. J.W., E.D. and J.M.: collaborated in participant recruitment, writing and editing the manuscript. S.G.: collaborated in study design, assisted in data analysis and collaborated in writing and editing the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

Ethical approval for this study was obtained from Perth Children’s Hospital Ethics Committee (2015181) and Curtin University (HR228/2015) and all procedures were performed in accordance with the 1964 Helsinki declaration as amended. Informed consent was required from all participants.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Occupational Therapy, Social Work and Speech PathologyCurtin UniversityPerthAustralia
  2. 2.Child Development ServiceChild and Adolescent Health ServicePerthAustralia
  3. 3.Kids Rehab WA, Perth Children’s HospitalChild and Adolescent Health ServicePerthAustralia
  4. 4.Faculty of Health and Medical Science, PaediatricsUniversity of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia

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