Ever wondered what Playcentre is all about?

I’m going to say it: Playcentre is not ‘all about the kids’ – if by ‘all’ we mean ‘only’. Talking with Andrea Read of Linwood Playcentre, it’s clear that it is also about and for the parents.

Andrea has three girls, Tilly (3 ½), Rosa (2 ½) and Ellie (1). Her Playcentre journey started at Babies Can Play when Tilly was 6 months old. ‘I decided to go along to Playcentre as well, and what I noticed immediately was that it was a place for me to get involved too.’

As Andrea says, ‘when I started Playcentre I was pregnant with Rosa. It was the perfect place for me to be. People were so kind and supportive, and just took Tilly under their wings.’
Andrea talks of people who ‘get it’ – that is, the enriching and exhausting life of a parent with young children. ‘Because everyone understands, and because we’re all friends, we reach out to each other. When one of our mums has a baby, someone does up a Care Pack, another does a couple of meals, and we offer to pick up the older children and take them to Playcentre so that Mum can stay with baby.

That was my experience with Ellie – they just picked up the two older girls so that I could stay in bed with my baby.’
She also talks about the social times that aren’t all about the kids: the movie nights and pot luck dinners. (Of course the claim that these occasions aren’t about the kids only holds up if you disregard what is the dominant theme of their conversation – the children.)

Andrea brings Ellie along to Playcentre now, and Mum and baby watch on while the older girls play. For Tilly and Rosa, Playcentre is their second home. ‘They think it’s theirs’, shares Andrea. And they’d be right.

Andrea talks about her kids’ love of Playcentre and how this has evolved. ‘To begin with it was the novelty of all the toys and equipment and new spaces. The novelty wears off, but it’s replaced by a familiarity with the place and their favourite things to do. For Tilly, it’s all about family play and playing doctors.’

Andrea also remarks on how liberating Playcentre is for kids. She recalls her niece coming to Playcentre and noticing that the kids had nailed pieces of wood together and were painting them. ‘My niece was shocked. “Are they allowed to paint those?” she asked.’

At Playcentre children have opportunities to follow their creative impulses and act on their urges to challenge themselves – because parents recognise that this is how kids learn, and, as Andrea points out, ‘because it’s a safe place to do all this’.

Not be overlooked is the fact that Playcentre provides a space for the clay, slime and paint to come out. The smudges, smears and spills are all part of the play – away from the carpet, couches and curtains at home.

‘Our kids just take it for granted that they can do these things, without being held back. I said to my niece that “yes, they could paint their creations” and I asked whether she’d like to do some painting too.’

Playcentre is all about letting the kids play their way: whether it’s listening to someone’s heartbeat with a stethoscope, dancing with scarves or squishing playdough into shapes – that may represent eggs or biscuits or may just be the nebulous by-products of a wonderful sensory experience.

But more than this, Andrea highlights, Linwood Playcentre is all about the parents and families. As Andrea says, ‘we come to Playcentre as much for ourselves as for our kids. It’s a place for me to enjoy being with my kids, and also to enjoy chatting with my friends while the girls play with theirs.’

At Playcentre, that’s what it’s all about: families, friendships and fantastic play experiences for all.

By Kate Barber