Playcentre is an internationally recognised early childhood organisation that began in 1941 primarily as a support service for women left raising children alone due to their partners being away with the second world war. With isolation from lack of transport and low family incomes being the reality for many women, Playcentre's original aims were "to provide leisure for mothers and opportunities for the social development of the pre-school child" (Stover 1998, p.3).
The strategy used in establishing a Playcentre was for a group of mothers to roster themselves to care for children in a community hall, and develop management of their group with a strong focus on democratic processes. Playcentre leaders in the early years promoted an emphasis on parent education, which encouraged parents to be well read and have lively debates, both on childhood education and wider topics. These factors meant that, while Playcentres were products of their times and local community, they were from the start a site for women's empowerment and feminist thought (Woodhams, 2010).
The NZ Playcentre Federation was formed in 1948, bringing together already established associations in the Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury regions. The Federation was based on the original philosophies of child initiated play and the importance of parents as educators of their own children.
In an attempt to meet the changing needs of society, Playcentre has committed to revaluing how it operates with the focus on reducing the workload and administration requirements for voluntary parents to refocus on the education of their children on sessions. The motto ‘more play, less admin’ is the driver for an organisational change that hopes to redirect resources and funding down to the children in Centres.
Playcentre made a commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi and biculturalism in 1989. In 1994 Playcentre acknowledged Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Māori version of the Treaty, as the founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand. A Treaty audit of the Federation Constitution, conducted in 1999 by YWCA Consultancy Group, gave the Federation guidance on how they might improve Federation structures and processes to better reflect its commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Playcentre Federation has been using a version of the Two House Model for reaching decisions by consensus at National Executive Meetings and Conferences since 2006. The Two House Model is a consensus decision making model which seeks to honour the cultural practices or tikanga of each Tiriti-partner and mitigate any imbalance in numbers between the two Tiriti-partners.
At Conference 2011 Playcentre passed a constitutional remit giving Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti members equal rights and responsibilities within Playcentre membership. In addition, they agreed to endorse Federation Officers representing both Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti. The Federation structure currently has Tiriti-based Co-Presidents, Trustee Board roles and Education Co-Convenors.
Stover, S. (Ed.). (1998). Good Clean Fun: New Zealand's Playcentre Movement. Auckland: Playcentre Publications
Woodhams, M. (2010). Recognising mothering as real work: The role of Playcentre in challenging public discourse. Paper presented at Connecting Women, Respecting Difference, University of Waikato, Hamilton