Playcentre – An interview with Veronica Pitt

Veronica Pitt is the Operations Manager for the New Zealand Playcentre Federation

 General information

  • Number of Playcentres in New Zealand: 470
  • Number of children attending Playcentre in New Zealand: About 9,500 children
  • Fees: All centres set their own fees. Some of them are minimal, some are 80 or 90 NZ Dollars a term, others have higher fees but the centres can get governmental support and get a subsidy
  • Governmental funding: All Playcentres receive funding which all Early Childhood Centres receive. The rate for Playcentre is different than other services. The total received depends on how many hours the children attend.
  • Where in New Zealand: Playcentre are run in cities and quite often in rural, isolated places where Playcentre is the only Early Childhood Centre
  • Curriculum: Te Whariki  , because it is a really great curriculum, it is very holistic and looks at the whole child

Playcentre’s mission

Playcentre is a family organisation. We empower adults and children to play, work, learn and grow together. We honor Te Tiriti o Waitangi and celebrate people’s uniqueness.

We value and affirm parents as the first and best educators of their children so that whanau are strengthened and communities enriched. The main focus is on the families and on supporting families to look after their children, and to create a feeling of community.

Our image of the child

Children are competent people and it’s our job to support them and help them on their journey rather than push them. Each child is an individual and each one has their own way of developing or unfolding. Each Playcentre belongs to the families that are there at the time and they take ownership of that and the older kids know where everything is and they can tell you how it works.

Why do parents join Playcentre?

Reason # 1: Family, community and friendships

People find that they learn more about their children. They enjoy being with their child and their friends within the community.

A lot of people do say “They came for the child and stayed for themselves” because of those communities and a lot of people make lifelong friendships.

We find a lot of people in more modern society are not as connected to extended family quite often. We go to different places and people move around. A lot of people find that Playcentre provides that extended family, the village to help to raise your child. Because there are all the other parents and they can talk to each other and they realize that your kid is not the only one going through that stage.

Reason #2: Approach and learning style

We have a lot more laid back, relaxed approach. It works well for a lot of the kids.

It is also because we very much focus on child-led learning and letting the child chose what they want to do, when they want to do it. A lot of the people do really like that. And I know some daycares do follow child-led learning as well but being afraid of the lead of the children and to follow their trust.

There is a different learning when the parents are around. When they are playing they may be playing in the same area for three months but it’s ok because they are learning.

Integration of the Maori culture

The integration of Maori culture is something we are constantly working on and trying to improve. Some of it is the real basics like making sure that equipment and resources reflect the Maori culture. We make sure that every centre has traditional costumes that children can dress up in and sing songs. We put up signs around the centre and encourage parents to use Maori language and respect Maori culture.

We had some research done in the 1990’s which produced a little book called “Whānau Tūpu Ngātahi” and it outlined the cultural things to be aware of in the different areas of the Playcentre – e.g. to make sure that children don’t sit on the table because that’s not ok in Maori culture.

We offer the opportunity for karakia and waiata ( prayer and hymn) in the beginning of meetings

At a national level in our Trustee Board, we have three elected from Maori and three from non-Maori.  We make our national decisions together in a 2 House model. Te Whare Tikanga Maori is the house for Maori members, and Tangata Tiriti is the house for non-Maori members. All decisions are discussed first in each house to allow people to consider the topic within their cultural framework.

Then the agreement from each house goes to a negotiation space between the houses and a final decision is agreed for the organisation as a whole

We are trying to model the partnership between both cultures on that level.

Integration of the Maori culture is definitely an important aspect. We are definitely not perfect, there is a lot we can still do and at least try to do.

Parents as educators: The Playcentre diploma

What is it?

We have the Playcentre diploma. That’s recognized on our National Qualification Framework. It is an Early Childhood & Adult Education program and parents have to attend workshops. It does vary throughout the country as to how many parents do it. A lot of centres push stronger to get all the parents to do it. Everyone has to do the training but not all of the parents go as far in the training.

What do you learn in the courses?

They get the info on how to run a centre, everything about child development, behavior guidance those kind of topics.

Who teaches the courses?

Usually parents who are further along in the training and have achieved course 4 teach course 1 to 3. And the people who take the higher course are the ones with a lot of experience or people who have outside qualifications. But there are always people who have been through Playcentre by themselves and understand how it works.

Can you work in other ECE settings with the Playcentre diploma?

You can’t work as a teacher with the Playcentre diploma in other Early Childhood Education settings. In other settings they have to have a number of fully qualified teachers.  Although we have a good reputation the Playcentre diploma is not high enough legally to qualify for other ECE settings.


The main difficulty: Keeping the numbers up.

It is getting more and more difficult because of people needing to work and needing two incomes. We are getting less people coming because of that commitment. And still some parents, do work part time and send their children to daycares three days and come on other days. And use Playenctre as a place where they can play with their kids and have fun.

Then there are people who criticize professionalism and say that professional teachers should teach children.

Parents get criticized when their child is 3, 4 or 5 and “are they going to be ready for school?”. At Playcentre they are used to having relationships with a lot of adults because there’s a lot of adults in Playcentre. So they have those interactions and are prepared to work with teachers at school.

Other main pressures come from government compliance. A lot of safety requirements are coming out and that means more paperwork.

Playcentre in other countries – Japan

There is Playcentre in Japan which is associated with us. They have the idea from here and they keep in touch with us. So they are based on the New Zealand Playcentres, but not a formal part of our organization.  It’s not wide spread in Japan but there is a couple in Tokyo and in Eniwa. They came over and visited, went back and implemented it in their cities.

In Japan they will find that the mothers who were home with their children were very isolated and no one would come out of their homes. And that was not good for the children nor the parents. So they were looking for ways to encourage them to come out and mix with the community and to get to know each other. So they used Playcentre as the model to do that.

We didn’t want to be prescriptive about how it should look like and how it should work because each culture is different and what is important is in each culture different. So we have shared the general idea and provided support, but allow the Japanese groups to develop it in their own way. We have talked about taking Playcentre to other countries and set it up in other countries as well but are focused on growing it in New Zealand at the moment.

Thank you, Veronica, for taking your time!




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