Child’s Play

Considering checking out your local Playcentre? Mother of two Heather Lyall dispels five common myths about these parent-led early childhood centres 

1. Playcentre is run by teachers and paid staff

Playcentre is a unique organisation that’s been around for almost 80 years. Playcentre recognises parents as the best first educators of their kids. Parents run the centres collectively, playing alongside their children as well as working together to keep their local Playcentre running. Playcentres help parents build on their existing skills by offering amazing adult education. Most also offer activities for older children. This is super-handy as you can leave your kids with people you know really well and spend time on other things or enjoy a precious morning coffee without the kids! 

2. It’s all too much hard work!

Playcentre parents have to commit to a few basics, such as attending sessions, doing training and coming along to meetings. Then there are the things you choose to do – because it’s an amazing experience and you want to do more. The connection you make with your child’s learning means you can encourage and extend it in the home as well. The benefits easily outweigh the effort put in. Most parents find that Playcentre becomes an extended family of like-minded people who want to be part of their children’s early lives and really enjoy this special time. 

3. We’re all rich supermums 

In my experience Playcentre mums are a motley (but nice) crew from many different nationalities and socioeconomic backgrounds. There may be a growing trend of fewer Playcentre parents from households with lower incomes. This reflects New Zealand’s lack of real ‘living wages’ that would allow parents the choice to stay at home. There’s no judgement if you choose to work, but there are many Playcentre parents (me included) who choose to work part-time or live frugally on one parent’s wage so they can attend. Dads and grandparents come along too, and as the saying goes, no one is perfect. We’re all just doing our best and sometimes, when it all gets too much, our second best, and that’s okay. 

4. Playcentre is a free-for-all of unruly, messy, naked beasts 

Playcentre’s educational philosophy is never to teach a child what they can learn themselves. There is truth to the messy and mucky part, as the object is to let children discover their world themselves – following their own pace, instinct and interests. Parents are not there to say “don’t make a mess”, “do it this way” or “now do this” – our role is to extend children’s development and exploration and to keep them safe. So no to the naked and unruly bit, and yes to experimenting and some gloriously messy play.

5. Playcentre doesn’t prepare children for school

I can’t think of a better start for my kids than playing in a richly resourced setting with parents and friendly adults around who are committed to developing their interests. It’s passion-based learning and that is why so many families love Playcentre. In a 1996 report from an ongoing study, The New Zealand Council for Educational Research found that six-year-old ex-Playcentre kids ranked at the highest level for perseverance. The ability to keep trying even if it doesn’t work the first time is a fantastic life skill for children to have. The way Playcentre encourages kids to engage with the world around them develops their innate enthusiasm for learning and this sets them up perfectly for starting their schooling adventure.

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