„Let it go, it will happen. It’s magic!”
A couple of years ago I worked as a Nanny for a family in a small town called Katikati, NZ. Their 5 year old son Jeremy (name changed) has autism and his family decided that he would be taken care of at home by a Nanny. Instead of going to a public daycare he and I went to the local Playcentre, four mornings per week.
Playcentre is an organization for Early Childhood Education whose centers are operated by parents and was established in New Zealand.
The Playcentre in Katikati is a one-story-house with one big room, separated in four play areas: Book and reading area, block area, creative arts and dramatic play. Around the house there was a big outdoor area with swings, a water table, a big covered sandpit, a vegetable garden and carpentry.
The carpentry impressed me the most! There were no plastic toys, there were real hammers, nails, screws, and screwdriver and all the kids of every age could use them. The kids were able to try their carpentry skills on the workbench or at a simple house construction made of wood.
One mom always brought her Ukulele and sang with the kids – Maori songs were part of it. One of the main principles of Playcentre is being bicultural. Like in the national ECE curriculum “Te Whariki”, the Maori culture and traditions shall be maintained and integrated in the practice – at Playcentre for example in songs and books.
Sometimes we went on fieldtrips to the local library, to the river or the next bigger city. Field trips were an important part to show the community to the children.
Every morning was a short meeting and the moms were assigned for one play area to look after the children. “Everyone is responsible for every child” was one of the rules. So every mom (or dad) would write a learning story about their own or another child. (More information: http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/Principles/Learning-to-learn/Tools/Learning-stories)
The template that was used looked like this: Learning story
The time at Playcentre was very important for Jeremy! He wasn’t forced to follow a certain plan; he wasn’t forced to sit with the group when they sang songs together. He could keep distance until he felt comfortable. Often he just sat a whole morning near the Sandpit and observed what the other children were doing. Sometimes he would repeat their actions on the next day.
For the other children the social learning aspect was important as well: Being together with other children and the different age groups had the effect that younger children learned from older children (imitation) and the older ones learned how to be a role-model and to help the younger ones.
Jeremy – as well as the other children- was able to follow their natural curiosity and their desire to discover, together with their moms or dads. Because one of the main ideas of Playcentre is that children learn best with parents as their primary educators.
It was ok for the parents at Playcentre when their kids played five days in a row the same game or were focused on just one object. Most important was that they were focused and concentrated on one task. This opened learning moments and within those the children were able to observe an object from different angles, use it in different ways and look for different solutions when a problem occurred.
The common understanding of ‘learning’ is: A child is constantly learning. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. No matter what a child is doing. He just needs time.
When I moved back to Germany I told friends and colleagues about Playcentre and of course I met some skeptical people who basically had the same questions:
„That’s not possible. We have to go to work!”
Yes, it’s rare that only one parent goes to work and the other parent stays home. Usually, nowadays, both parents work and an institutional care of children is indispensable. But parents in New Zealand also have to work. Some moms only work part-time and go with their children to Playcentre on their days off.
On some days Playcentre allows sometimes that children can stay without their parents if the Playcentre is in ratio that day.
„My children should be taken care of by other parents and not qualified professionals?”
One of the main ideas of Playcentre is that children learn best with their parents as their first educator. It is –in my opinion- a great asset of Playcentre that parents have the opportunity to do further education in Early Childhood Education. The participation of the adult education program is in fact compulsory and a requirement to join Playcentre.
„Children need a clear structure and rules!“
There was no fixed structure. The daily routine was very flexible but still within a certain frame. I often exchanged my (german) experience with the other moms and that I am used to more structure. It was difficult for me to be more laid back and not to intervene and guide in the children’s play.
And then the moms told me „Let it go, it will happen. It’s magic“. If I wouldn’t have seen it over months and months how much the kids learned without having a tight structured daily routine – I wouldn’t have thought it’s possible!
Playcentre offers an opportunity for parents who want to spend more time with their children and who want to be there when their children reach the next developmental milestone.
Playcentre also offers a space for parents to get together and share their experiences and opinions. It is a place for parents who want to be the primary educator and who want to discover, explore and learn together with their children.
Playcentre especially offers a sense of community. Because of the gathering with other families and field trips to the community they live in, children get to know where they live and with who they are living in a community.
No matter what socio-economic background, no matter if you have a disability or ethnicity. EVERYONE is welcomed, diversity is appreciated a lot!
And clear structures and rules? Yes, that’s important and there is some sort of structure and rules but don’t forget: