It was seventy five years ago, in 1941 during the second world war, that Playcentre was first established in Wellington. Three women; Inge Smithells, Beatrice Beeby and Joan Wood, recognised the isolation and stress of mothers of young children, particularly while the children’s fathers were overseas at war.
They sought to create an opportunity to be connected in their communities for friendship and support, having the mental stimulation of learning about their children’s learning and being part of a community group. They sought to make a difference in society. And mothers in our current society, have many of the same desires as this previous generation.
And still today, Playcentre’s are operating all around the country, largely run by dedicated volunteer parents and caregivers. The Playcentre motto is Whānau tupu ngātahi – Families growing together. And for many families, Playcentre is more than just for our children. It encompasses and facilitates the “village” many of us struggle to find in our modern world.
For my family, Playcentre provides a home away from home where I am more than happy to let my kids create mess and chaos as I am surrounded by like minded other parents and caregivers with children who are doing the same thing! By sharing the workload, things like messy play are much more manageable when you have more hands than just your own to help at clean up…
There is always someone to empathise with the lack of sleep I’m getting or the craziness and relentlessness of the three year old tantrums… There is someone I can ask to make me a coffee while I’m struggling to get the baby to sleep or who I make a coffee for as they are reading the 20th book that morning to my son, often alongside their own son at the kai table, but other times alone…
There are times where I pass my baby off to someone else or say “just watch Jai for me” as I dash off to help Josh in the carpentry section. And other times someone else will hand me a baby or responsiblity of their child while they dash off to grab or do something.
Playcentre affords opportunities for my children to have relationships with other adults independently from me, to develop friendships and social skills with children in a mixed group of ages and for me to have relationships, not only with other parents and caregivers, but with other children who are part of my community.
The fact that our passion and investment in being involved in our children’s early education is sometimes our only common factor, means the experience, knowledge, skill set and interests of those that make up each centre, association and collectively part of the national Playcentre brand, are so diverse and varied. And this is reflected in the learning experiences and opportunities provided to our tamariki.
The adult education program, which is designed to not only educate but empower parents, has been invaluable for me to feel both confident and capable as my children’s best first educator. Learning starts well before school and continues well after and as parents, being invested in our children’s learning at this young age will have benefits much longer term than just the preschooler years.
In an early education setting, the training Playcentre affords us as adults helps us to recognise and respond to our children’s learning, understand the purposes of play and the learning that they are exploring and achieving through it. Teaching us about the principles of Te Whariki, the unique early education curriculum in New Zealand and training us in writing and recording this learning, creates opportunities to not only understand child development, but have amazing records of it too.
I am incredibly grateful that I found Playcentre early in my parenting journey and am passionate about sharing the amazing and rewarding experiences it has afforded to my family. It is not without work, parents and caregivers involved in Playcentre need to be prepared to roll up their sleeves and get dirty themselves. But that’s part of the beauty of it.
Stop in at your local centre for a coffee and a play and check it out for yourself! Find more on the Playcentre website – http://www.playcentre.org.nz
Te Akoranga Association