Ten-year-old Tessa Marshall is a shining example of the influence Playcentre can have, even long after early childhood has been left behind.

This year Tessa has set up a business making and selling reusable lunch wraps. “I want to reduce the amount of plastic wrap going into landfill,” she says. “Plastic wrap pollutes our world because it can only be used once and then it never biodegrades. I want to help reduce the amount of disposable sandwich wrap being used in New Zealand.”

For Tessa, the origins of this project can be traced back to her very earliest introduction to learning, at Playcentre.

Tessa began attending South Brighton Playcentre with her mum, Clare, when she was just six months old. She continued right through until she was 5. Today Tessa is a Year 6 student at Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery, a Special Character school with a student-centred philosophy. Like Ao Tawhiti, Playcentre is about “doing what you’re interested in,” she says. “It helped me get to know my passions from the very beginning.”

Tessa’s current obsession began with a school ‘Impact Project’, a classroom venture designed to promote social action. She noticed the huge amount of waste being produced every day by the simple plastic wrap that most of us enclose our lunches in. Frustrated, she set out to do something about it.

Tessa’s solution, sustainable ‘Happy Wraps’, are handmade squares of brightly coloured fabric, each coated in a mixture of beeswax, tree resin and jojoba oil. Tessa uses pinking shears to cut out the fabric, which prevents the material from fraying. She then makes the wax coating, which is painted onto the fabric and left to dry. The Happy Wraps can be wiped clean with a warm cloth or put into a hot oven to reset the wax if creased. Tessa makes two sizes, one suitable for wrapping sandwiches and the other for wrapping snacks like nuts or muffins.

As well as learning how to make the wraps, Tessa has created a video and a website to promote her product. Seeing this and listening to Tessa speak with such care and understanding about the environment, it’s easy to forget that she’s only ten years old.

At Playcentre both mother and daughter found a sense of community, a support network, and an educational philosophy that influenced them deeply. Mother, Clare, completed Playcentre’s Course 4 and is currently training to become a teacher. Her teaching practice remains heavily influenced by her formative involvement with Playcentre.

“I could rave and rave about the positive influence of Playcentre on our lives and its influence on my girls’ education,” Clare says, “right through to now, nearly 6 years on. The strength Playcentre gives parents to trust in their instincts, trust their knowledge about their child, and trust in the power of play is phenomenal and to be treasured.”

Both Tessa and her mum are also grateful for the way Playcentre fostered each child’s relationships with adults. The adults are allies, they suggest. They’re there to support and guide you, not just to tell you off. In her current project Tessa has been supported by her mum and by her Homebase Learning Advisor at Ao Tawhiti, Kay, in particular.

“Discovering the resources and friendships that exist in your local community, in the other people trying just like you to do the best job parenting they can, is priceless,” Clare says.

“Playcentre changed our lives,” Clare concludes fondly, just as it aims to do for all the families who enter its doors.

You can support Tessa’s project to reduce non-biodegradable waste in Aotearoa by visiting her website, https://cma2104.wixsite.com/happywraps