This is Playcentre

16th January 2015

Experiences during eight years of Playcentre

First contact

With not the foggiest idea of what Playcentre was I trusted to my parenting hero, Bronwen Olds, who’d told me: “go up the hill, they’ll look after you”, and so I waddled up the hill, heavily pregnant, holding the hand of my 18 month old daughter Lucy. We arrived to find one of the adults had parked her car up by the centre and several eager pre-schoolers were avidly “washing” it. Lucy soon got stuck in with those older children who would later become her friends and heroes…

This is Playcentre.

What’s going on here?

Now with two-under-two I turned up to sessions sporadically; sat and played with my girls; shyly compared Lucy’s lunchbox with those around me; and sidled out the door at the end, head down, hoping no-one would notice I wasn’t helping with clean up. It took me several months to realise that these sessions were being run by parents just like me, not paid teachers. I didn’t understand what my roles on session were and several times I forgot to provide morning tea (kia ora to my team for not telling me off, someone quietly whipped up some scones instead).

This is Playcentre.


I finally made it to one of these mysterious centre meetings. As I sat and listened, ohhhhh, it slowly dawned on me: I’m part of the running of this Playcentre. I remember there being a strangely long discussion about the type of coffee the centre could afford to buy – I don’t drink coffee so I didn’t participate (I was too shy at this point to participate in any case). I was also exhausted with a baby who woke many, many times a night. A kind woman next to me perhaps noticed me nodding off, “you don’t have to stay till the end, leave when you need to”.

This is Playcentre.

And so it begins

After a gentle couple of talks with the Education Officer I eventually realised I needed to go to one of those talks about Playcentre. Te Wai (course 1) turned out to be a very enjoyable evening and I even felt myself getting a little excited about Playcentre, but “I don’t think I’ll do any more training, it sounds too hard”. But suddenly the session I was attending at my centre became a course 2 block course (Te Puna in A Term), OK then I may as well; they’ll look after my children and all…

This is Playcentre.

Stepping up to a job

Still rather at a loss as to what on earth was going on at this Playcentre place I’d ended up in, I headed off to the AGM – they offered free pizza and wine after all. “So who could take on the session lists for each term?”, “oh I can do that” I thought, “I like lists” and before I knew it the wine had raised my hand up and my name was down beside a job.

This is Playcentre.

Opening a Playcentre with a Prime Minister

After the wine also volunteering me for joining the “Opening Ceremony” committee for our newly refurbished centre (it was the least I could do since I’d helped next to nothing with the actual renovations), I encountered my first controversy. Who do we get to open the centre? Surely we couldn’t get The Right Honourable Helen Clark… or could we? One group felt hopeful and went for it, meanwhile someone else, a recent member who’d done a most superb job of contributing to the major centre refurbishments, was asked. Doh! What are we to do once we managed to secure NZ’s Prime Minister? I wouldn’t say the day went off without a hitch however it was pretty fabulous and the video and photos of our doors jammed with well-wishers attested to that. The community support for this little centre on the hill was breath-taking.

This is Playcentre.

Lots of little learning

When “calling the roll” at morning tea time, some adults would ask the children “Lucy, are you here?” I remember our superbly wise and sunshine-filled Centre Support Person, Colleen, pointing out: “What a silly question to ask! The children will see through that. Let’s do them the respect of treating them as we would adults. How about ‘Kia ora Lucy’ J”. What a eureka! moment for me. Despite being challenging, I was falling in love with this place.

This is Playcentre.

In awe

I noticed my eldest, Lucy’s, name on a list during a Planning Meeting and then several stories (apparently called observations) turned up in her profile book that people had written. I was blown away that these other parents cared enough about my daughter to notice what she was doing on session and, even more, they understood how to break down what she was learning in that scenario. Wow! I needed to get me some of that knowledge!

This is Playcentre.


It occurred to me that those I was admiring in the centre had done or were doing Te Manga (course 3) or higher of this Playcentre training business. I figured I needed to do my bit. Te Manga in Two Terms was being held at what would soon become “the other Playcentre” to 3 year old Lucy and 18 month old Sophie. Again, I felt myself in awe of the supervision team at this weekly training session. They really knew their stuff and yet were just parents like me. I also nearly wept with relief to discover some seriously kindred spirits amongst the workshop facilitators – people who were passionate about conscious parenting practices, child development, communication and also knowledgeable about Te Tiriti O Waitangi and Te Reo Maori. I felt I had come home.

This is Playcentre.


After nearly two years I was feeling more confident of my place in not only my local Playcentre but also in the wider world of Playcentre. Friends I made during that two terms of Te Manga training I have kept and will always feel a bond with. At my centre I could now provide more points on sessions and felt confident in my understanding of what we were trying to achieve here each day we turned up with our children. Also the haze of that first year of a new baby was lifting and I was excited about working with this variety of adults on a range of adult things, along with my day to day care of two pre-schoolers. It was then that I got a call from the local Kindergarten to say there was a place for Lucy. I didn’t see any need to change her out of this wonder-full environment; everything she needed was here at Playcentre. We added another independent session for Lucy, trusted in the care and attention of all these other parents and continued on growing and learning together.

This is Playcentre.

Unpopular beliefs

Along with growing confidence, I felt a growing disquiet that mine and the mainstream parenting practices were diverging:

  • Playcentre is the perfect learning environment for all pre-schoolers, from birth right through to school
  • All families can benefit from being part of Playcentre
  • Infants and toddlers shouldn’t be in high chairs to be fed if possible; with so many adults they can be on an adult’s knee or in a small seat with sides (I later discovered this is an ECE recommendation also)
  • Car seats are for use in a moving car and not for carting babies around like heavy handbags
  • We don’t need to teach our babies to roll, crawl, sit, stand and walk, they’ll do it beautifully by themselves if given the opportunity to practice freely and regularly
  • “Leaving them to cry so they’ll learn to self soothe” is not a valid argument
  • Adults aren’t the bosses, we are aiming to work together in partnership, finding a balance well in the middle of the extremes of punitive and permissive parenting

Sometimes I felt quite heartbroken at the range of parenting practice I observed. How much do I ignore? When do I offer assistance or another alternative?

This is Playcentre.

It’s worf a crack Nigel!

So, no-one was looking to step forward for President… OK I’ll give it a go. I realised I’d need a good support person so I hand-picked my Vice. Ok, now I can really get some things moving. With much assistance from my dear Centre Support Person I used what I’d gained from my Te Manga experiences and had a good crack at this role: meeting facilitation complete with scene setting candles and local flora, calling for feedback, “is there anyone who can’t live with this decision?”, generating a centre-wide review of how we guide children’s behaviour on session. My husband noticed a marked increase in how often I was out and how much I was working. Uh oh. What a year! Finally I understood what our Association did and that other centres were REALLY different from ours. Some ideas flopped, others I’m still proud of.

This is Playcentre.

A little tale

Two little girls are in the bath playing with their toy ducks. The older one booms with a deep voice “I’m the Daddy Duck and I go to work”, then another more softly states “I’m the Mummy Duck and I go to meetings”.

This is Playcentre.

Leadership training, now we’re getting serious

I was up for the challenge of this Course 5 course that I didn’t know was a Course 5 course until much later! I only knew it was a whole weekend (away from being a Mum) that I got to spend amongst really cool people!! I learned how fabulous it is to do a car rally with only “Action” people like me in it J. Awesome role-modelling, incredibly helpful learning, ups and downs, interesting conversations with trainees and facilitators alike (“Do you think I should have another baby??” was one)…

This is Playcentre.

With the big guns for a time

An invitation to support our Association’s current Co-President wasn’t one I wanted to turn down. I was there for you MM. Off up to Conference we went and some major eye opening occurred! Pennie Brownlee’s Dance with me in the Heart book was released (and I promptly returned home and conceived our third daughter through shear desire to put Pennie’s wisdom into practice!); MPs and strong minded, wise women, and some of the workings of the wider Playcentre community were revealed to me during that inspirational experience. I’d tasted the bigger picture, I’d soaked in the amazing energy, I wanted more! Unfortunately I totally lose my mojo when I’m pregnant so I needed to patiently await a time when I could again dip my toe in those waters of everlasting Playcentre life…

This is Playcentre.

Big bellied and running workshops

A casual mention while at Conference of wanting to run workshops to someone who happened to be the Hutt Education Convenor threw me slightly unexpectedly (but supremely happily) into the world of the “Hutt Facilitators’ Guild”. Once, twice, thrice I co-facilitated Te Tiriti O Waitangi – oooh, I like this, I do, I even love it! This was what I was born to do! This is what I need to keep doing! After a while I snuck into Child Development and began to put down roots there. Evenings heading out to facilitate were no problem: “Bye!” I happily called to my little family “I’m off to hang out with adults!” My husband was a star and Sophie and Lucy (and later Kendra) have lasting images of a mother who is making a difference in the world, both with and without them.

This is Playcentre.

SPACE and Brainwave

Before I became pregnant I’d put my name down for training to be a SPACE facilitator: “I reckon I could do that…” Lying on the floor, (morning) sick as a dog but determined to make it through the weekend (at least I didn’t have to look after other little human beings for these two days), I had another Hallelujah! moment. Kathryn from the Brainwave Trust did a presentation that validated so much of what I was trying to do with my children – “Hurrah!” I nearly yelled through my green pallor. “Thank you, oh thank you” I said to Kathryn at the end and determined to find out more about this research-gathering, oh-so-fabulous organisation called Brainwave – yet another moment of clarity as to why I was embracing this Playcentre-lark so completely.

This is Playcentre.

New baby, new confidence

Now that I’d been part of this Playcentre business for a few years and felt a deep sense of trust in it, I felt confident to call on other members for help in my time of need. Heavily pregnant with daughter number three, Kendra, I arranged pick-ups and drop-offs for Sophie heading to three sessions per week. I understood that I would surely repay these many favours in the future when I was able, but that it wouldn’t necessarily be a repayment to those who’d helped me this time. Pay it forward is how it works…

This is Playcentre.

SPACE & Brainwave & Playcentre

I co-facilitated a SPACE programme with my little Kendra the same age as the other babies in the group. She was a model baby – kicking happily and then falling asleep when we did waiata. She was deeply into her explorations with the treasure basket items, and inspired the other babies (and parents too) to indulge their curiosity. Preparing SPACE sessions and training as a Brainwave presenter, balancing with needs of, and desire for, Playcentre participation and school involvement, and home/family life also, was growing tricky. Luckily Kendra was a sunshine baby and was happy to be with others. Our bond was particularly strong and our family was working well together. The hardest thing was getting Lucy to school on time!!

This is Playcentre.

Other people love my children!

One morning at Playcentre a friend came to me and said “I dreamed about Kendra’s gorgeous, big, luscious legs last night!” Another woman often made a special point of telling me stories of Kendra on sessions and asked to look after her at her house. Sophie had a best friend and her mum was basically a second mother to Sophie – having her over very regularly. What an amazing community to be part of.

This is Playcentre.

Ups and downs and time for change

With increasing consternation I realised there was not a strong belief at my centre in the benefit of Playcentre for older pre-schoolers. NZ culture has it that 3 & 4 year olds go to Kindy. Even my family would ask my girls: “so how was Kindy today?”. It’s an institution that’s expected still (that is unless both parents are working, which is increasingly becoming the norm). I didn’t share the concerns my fellow members seemed to have – that children need Kindy to “prepare for school”. If doing school routines was perceived as difficult for a 5 year old then why on earth would it be easier for a 3 or 4 year old?? My training had shown me that without doubt Playcentre was whole and complete in itself for a young child’s preschool years. Lucy had stayed along with her best friend Ryan through to starting school. They were “like peas and carrots” to quote Forrest Gump. But more and more of our centre families were choosing to send their older children elsewhere and I could see that our Playcentre was the poorer for these choices. I had done some looking around and realised it was time for a change. I wanted for my children to be cared for on sessions by adults who believed in Playcentre for big kids. I decided to make a switch to another Playcentre – this one was historically strong and one that had done a great job holding onto its big kids. This was a tortuous decision with much second guessing but I trusted to my beliefs and made the change.

This is Playcentre.

Quietly confident

It’s a strange thing starting out somewhere new but in actual fact knowing rather a lot about the overall picture of Playcentre. I quietly settled in – focussing on ensuring my two little girls grew confident in the new setting. I informed teams of their characters and created a special child plan for Sophie who was only two terms away from heading off to school. Sophie turned 5 during the final term though carried on to the end of the term in her five sessions per week. I re-started my Playcentre training and enjoyed finding out how things were done here. The adults were amazing with Sophie particularly – enjoying her face painting prowess and her pink fairy dress uniform. A young woman called Annika was on an exchange from Germany and she quickly earned the besotted devotion of Sophie.

This is Playcentre.

Haere ra Sophie

We had held one for Lucy and we wished to celebrate Sophie’s move to school also with Poroporoaki – a transition ceremony. I’d read about one of these in the Playcentre Journal and was very inspired.  We invited everyone from the centre, whānau and friends and it created a beautiful evening of sharing, receiving, preparing, meeting challenges,… and then there was just one on sessions!…

This is Playcentre.

Te Awa, finally!

After 3 ½ years of hard work and good intentions I facilitated the discussions, ran the health & safety audit, etc. etc. etc. and I completed course 4, known as Te Awa in Te Awakairangi/Hutt Playcentre Association. I received great support from the centre and all of the Hutt Centre Support People helping me with childcare so that I could complete this milestone – most appreciated J. What an amazing community.

This is Playcentre.

Education Convenor

For the last two years I had been on the Education team for our Association and now it felt like time to take on the Convenor role, with the stepping back of our previous super-woman-in-command, SS! Unfortunately there was only one (though steadfast) member of the team so with the two of us doing our darnedest we had a crack at running the Hutt’s infamous Adult Education programme. It was major up-hill learning and involved many challenges. We called for help several times and received some but ultimately this was a 4-5 person job and we were never going to be able to fulfil on our visions and strategic plans; instead we simply kept the cogs going as best we could until an ongoing health issue strongly urged me to step down – leaving my stalwart companion to continue on alone. I’m so sorry Carelle L. My sadness was all the deeper for missing out on attending the truly splendid National Education meetings – so inspiring and motivating to continue our journeys.

This is Playcentre.

Tamariki Nui focus

At my previous centre I did quite a passionate push of support for babies’ right to full inclusion, and the appreciation of what babies bring, on sessions. At this new centre I turned my attention to the super stars of our centres, those who are there the most regularly of all of us, those who are the glue that keeps the centre together, the superheroes of the younger tamariki, the immensely creative members of the session teams … the four year olds! I became a voice of advocacy, along with other fab pro-Playcentre mums, for what the needs of tamariki nui were and how they differed from those of other younger age groups. I tried to support those with younger tamariki to have some space from their older child/ren by offering pick-ups to and from sessions and trying to not have a roster for parents on our tamariki nui session. I was also super keen on the concept of outdoor sessions but as the Mainlanders know “good things take time” and the centre wasn’t yet ready for this radical option.

This is Playcentre.

Completing Te Waka – Playcentre Diploma Leadership Strand

Leadership was where it was at for me in this magnificent training programme, so I gave it my all: completing first the tasks for course 5 and then, 18 months later, the tasks for the course 6 leadership strand. Taking my place among the many firsts Hutt have achieved in the Playcentre diploma completions – precious few others in the country have completed this … aside from those amazing six women who have completed the entire Playcentre Diploma (all from Hutt Association!)

This is Playcentre.

Final days

The last days were strange. Was I still part of the centre? Was I not? Utilising my Playcentre training to thinly sprinkle my well intentioned offerings to the last centre meeting – there was an interesting discussion about which coffee to buy so, along with growing from having nothing to contribute to meetings to having to hold back my korero, my Playcentre meeting world and gone full circle! Kendra’s countdown – “is it this many days left Mum?” (holding up 2 hands with spread fingers and trying to snuggle one or two fingers down). My great friend Jane arranged a combined final session at our local pool. I was blown away by the spectacular farewell gifts I received from the centre. Sarah & Barb’s super sausage sizzle was keeping us well energised. Past members from our and other centres attended in support. Past Playcentre children were joining in as school was finished for the year. A variety of ages; so many ranges of experiences and perspectives and dreams all together enjoying and enriching each other’s company.

This is Playcentre.

Parting thoughts…

So what have I gained? Patience (in enormous dollops!); respect for the many and varied stages of children’s development; strategies for supporting children with all their good intentions but with execution sometimes rather lacking; re-igniting PLAY in me; superhero ninjas!; “I can work with young children”; other people’s children running to hug me and sit on my lap; being happy to “make a fool of myself”; tolerance; appreciation; creativity; managing to still function with minimal sleep and maximum wake ups; many friends – both children and adults; memories to cherish and learn from forever; many springboards to my future careers and passions; continuing self confidence in my abilities to work with adults and children alike; knowing how to set up a clay table appealingly; playing by myself and watching the children arrive with their natural born interest peaked at what I’m doing; understanding the huge learning that the sand-pit-kids gain; working with the child who doesn’t want to eat with the others or who could use some tips to join in the play; knowing I’d chosen to learn and grow alongside my tamariki; knowing what it feels like to be the mother of “that child”; building deep and abiding relationships with other people’s children from birth to school age, and other adults returning this precious favour with my 3 lucky daughters…

I could never have been a stay at home mum without Playcentre and I never would have enjoyed my girls’ pre-school years and engaged in their learning without being so strongly involved in Playcentre. This is a decision I have never regretted and don’t ever expect to.


Also published in NZ Playcentre Federation’s Journal – issue 149, Autumn 2014 pages 28-32

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