Playcentre Alumni

What effect has my Playcentre participation had on my life, and where has it taken me?

Anna Clarkson

What effect Playcentre participation has had on my life.

In June 2007 we moved from Hamilton to Waimate. Before moving I had always worked, and when our eldest son Jack, now 6 ½, was only 3 months old, I went back to work part-time. I had never heard of Playcentre, so he went to a childcare centre. When we arrived in Waimate I was introduced to one of the mum’s in Jack’s class, and spotting our 2-year-old Logan, she immediately said “you have to come to Playcentre!” It was on my list of things to do when we got to town (I saw it in the information pack and thought it might be worth checking out) but now I had the official invite. So, 2 days later, after being in town a grand total of 4 days, I wandered along to my first ever Playcentre session. I stayed for the session and survived, but I really didn’t think it was my thing. My boys had always been in childcare and that was fine. It kept the playdough, paint and sandpits out of my place (apart from sand in the shoes) and I was happy about that. Now here I was elbow deep in the stuff. Logan seemed to enjoy the time at Playcentre, and the mums all seemed nice so I went back the next week. And the next and the next.

As the weeks went by Playcentre was very much the highlight of our week. I got to know new people quickly and they were all very friendly and welcoming. I don’t think I had ever really made the effort at home to just take the time to sit and play with my boys. Playcentre is the perfect place to be able to do that. It is great to be at the forefront of their preschool education and watch them learning while they play. You can’t do that with childcare. I always liked getting the boys profile books from childcare but felt I had missed out on something. Now I am part of Logan’s learning and can contribute to his profile book. I have discovered I do like playdough and playing in sandpits and that it is far more than just play. Even I have learnt stuff at the same time as Logan! Four months after joining Playcentre I was voted in as President for Waimate. This was a huge shock to me (I had planned to take over the secretary’s position!) but I knew that l had made good friends in the centre and everyone supports one another in their roles so I felt I could do the task, with their help.

Two years ago, I started thinking it might be nice to work with small children and maybe get into Early Childhood Education but could not see how it was possible, so I plodded along in my office job. I have now completed course 1 and am starting on course 2. I am seriously looking at completing the courses Playcentre offers, and when Logan goes to school in 2 years’ time, I can see myself staying on at Playcentre and maybe eventually working in an educator’s role. Who knows, from there I might just do that Early Childhood degree. Without Playcentre that would have just remained a faint idea in the back of my mind.

We are very lucky at Waimate Playcentre to have a friendly bunch of Mums & Dads that generally all stay at each session. It is as much a social time for the parents as it is for the children. I was told it would take 2 or 3 years to feel at home in a new town. I can honestly say that within 2 months I felt like Waimate was my home and I know that I can contribute a lot of that to being a part of Playcentre. For that I am most grateful.

Annie Dennehy Pedersen

Kia Ora!! I’m Annie Dennehy Pedersen, and a very proud past lay centre member.

18 years ago, I opened the door to my early childhood career by joining Havelock North Play centre in Ha Bay with my first daughter Alexa. The environment was so welcoming, for both parents and children. I was encouraged to share my skills in the centre, and soon my guitar playing became a regular part of the session. My next three daughters Brittany, Georgia and Brooke all quickly became regulars at this wonderful child-centred environment, where they quickly made friends with the children of other Play centre parents who were passionate about their children’s learning. These families included Ruth Vincent with Caroline, Jack and Elsa, Robin Piggott with Tawhana, Raukura, Hinewaerea and Mairurangi, Nicky Riley with Stew, Courtney, Sam and Greer, Fiona Cruickshank with Jean, Blythe, James and Moss, Te Ara Bergstrom with Beth, Hannah, Micaela and Caleb, and Patsy Douglas with her grandsons Layton and Keiran. Some of these children have remained friends with my daughters even now, and they often tell me of the wonderful memories they can recount together …. making volcanoes in the sandpit, the big pink train that could be pulled around, the barrel swing, the family play area, the vegetable garden, the sausages cooked over the little campfire … the memories are deep, fun and countless.

But I cannot IMAGINE how MY life would be if I had not discovered this amazing parent co­operative called Play centre as i was out on an evening walk back in1990. I learnt so many parenting skills that I am eternally grateful for -through having strong role-models for Positive Parenting at every session, for free workshops on how to talk to children, motivate them, support them, learn alongside them, and for a supportive library overflowing with the latest ways _to bring up children with high self-esteem. The workshops were what really got me going …! couldn’t get enough information on how to bring up my children to be secure, lovable, independent but dependable, nurturing them individually to be the best person they could be. Attending workshops earnt you points and when the time came for my last child Brooke to leave Play centre for school, I had amassed 120 points -in those days that was equivalent to two-thirds of a Diploma of Teaching in Early Childhood. The late Marie Tucker had taken me under her wing during my Play centre training, and she vigorously encouraged me to continue my early childhood knowledge by studying for this Diploma, so in 2002 I graduated from EAT!!

I am ever grateful for Marie’s love and support, firstly to get me through to my 120 points, then to seek and find my next career path. Previous careers were as a journalist and a radio announcer, so this one was totally unconnected!! With this now very much sought-after qualification, I have supervised at rural and urban early childhood centres, established a centre, tutored for EAT, Massey College of Education and Te Tara Puna Ora o Aotearoa, and now am the new director of ABC Hastings, one of the largest in the Bay. None of this would have been possible without my flying start in Play centre.

I wish the Play centre Federation well with its endeavours, especially as it is becoming more difficult for parents to be able to spend time playing with their children at Play centre due to financial demands on them. Thank you for everything Play centre …. Arohanui. …

Annie Denne sen Dip Tching (ECE)

Dr Jan Pearson

Playcentre participation started for me in 1975 following completion of my nursing training and subsequent work as a Practice Nurse and involvement in Parents Centre during my first pregnancy and after the birth of my daughter. As a young woman socialized to become a nurse or teacher then mother, with no future career ambition Playcentre changed that vision and my life for me. By providing the opportunity to be more involved in my children’s growth and development than the alternative preschool education I was able to make the most of my time, and really enjoy, my preschool children. I also relished the opportunity to undertake the qualifications available and the mental stimulation the courses provided. I was most fortunate in being able to attend one of Marie Bell’s Victoria University extension courses on child development which subsequently inspired me to attend university and gain an undergraduate degree in Education, after my children started school.

My experience as a Playcentre parent and having the opportunity of learning about child development enhanced my parenting and now grandparenting skills and stimulated me to become involved in a nursing focus of wellness and illness prevention rather than the traditional illness care. I consider that my nursing philosophy and focus were strongly influenced by Playcentre philosophy.

When I returned to the paid workforce it was as a Plunket nurse, where I could use my nursing and child development knowledge.

My belief in the importance of supporting parents and ensuring that children had the best foundation for life in the early years then became part of my day to day work. After working as a Plunket nurse then Public Health Nurse I became involved in nursing education with a focus on teaching both wellness and community nursing, before I stepped into a leadership role. It was during this time I was able to complete a master’s degree in education followed by a Doctorate in Nursing. Following this I returned to Plunket as Education Manager then moved into my current role as Health Promotion Manager with the Cancer Society of New Zealand.

When I reflect on my career I truly consider that without the opportunity that Playcentre involvement and the associated education gave me I could have been a very bored and boring mother and would not have been able to reach my educational and career potential. By following the path started by a Playcentre university extension course I have been able to influence not only my children’s and now my grandchildren’s development in their early years but I have also been able to further the philosophy that Playcentre embodies in a variety of employment roles.

Dr Jan Pearson, Mother, Grandmother and Health Promotion Manager, Cancer Society of New Zealand

Pat Penrose

In the late 1960’s I was a mother and wife settling my son into kindergarten (I had not heard about Playcentre then) and was wondering what the ‘happy ever after’ part of marriage was about. I spent a year at the kindergarten making the tea, cleaning out the cupboards, sitting on the veranda and knitting for the dolls. I was thinking ahead. I had failed School Cert, a big deal in my family and wondered if I ought to do SC now? What was I going to do for, say, the next thirty years? Children and home were not enough. Perhaps kindergarten teaching? It seemed like something I could do, and it would fit round the children. It was a huge let-down to not be accepted for training. ‘Perhaps you could try Playcentre, ‘ said the kindergarten teacher.


I visited the Dallington Playcentre one morning. I thought it was very formal as the adults were playing with the children instead of talking to each other and letting the children play on their own. Too busy to talk to me, they left me to soak up the atmosphere. I obviously was not put off and completed my Parent Helper Certificate at Wainoni Playcentre.

After doing Supervisor training I became a supervisor at North New Brighton (for 7 years) with Dorothy Dalkie, just as the centre came out of recess when their rooms had been taken over for the 1974 Commonwealth Games. The playcentre was set up in a local hall as was usual then. Later we watched as a local contractor donated and built a building for us.

I seemed to have a flair for children with special needs and it was our Field Officer, Ailsa Densem who suggested I attend a Teacher’s Refresher Course on Special Needs. The course was a huge eye-opener for me, and I followed the special needs track for some time. Early intervention was developing at the time. I collected the information for the Playcentre publication ‘Special in a Different Way’. Later the association ran courses on Children with Special Needs. Second chance education – what a gift!

In conclusion

In saying ‘yes’ to writing this, I have stated the effect Playcentre has had on me. In Playcentre I learnt to say ‘yes’ before my mind could come up with all the reasons, I could not do something. I felt like I was following a path with signposts to show the way. I could choose to say, ‘no, not this way’ or ‘let’s go round this rock’ or sometimes it was scary or new or bumpy but always following a path. I discovered that skills required can be learnt. I found that there is help and support there if needed but maybe I have to ask. I have made lifelong friends. I learnt to take chances and opportunities. I learnt that good and bad things happen, and it is how we handle them that changes our lives. I learn that I can do more things than I ever imagined. I learnt that two heads or more are better than one, the power of a group. Most of all I learnt that what I say will make sense or have meaning for someone out there and I may never know who, what or when that will happen. I love it when someone comes up and tells me their life changed because of something they got at a workshop or a phrase stuck in their heads that had meaning for them. I still smile at times when I think about how life dishes out exactly what we need, how things fall into place and how we create our own life by the choices we make. If …, if …, if …, certain things had been different then I would not be the person I am. I still marvel that I found Playcentre and am grateful.

Pat Penrose

Margaret Bowater

Before I had children, I was a rather academically-minded teacher, so having my first baby brought me down to earth with a thump. My husband and I had enjoyed Parents’ Centre classes in Auckland in 1964, which opened our eyes to the needs of a child. Two years later we had shifted to Thames, where I got busy setting up a new Parents’ Centre, holding the ante-natal class in our lounge, in time to prepare for my second baby. In the class was Jo Kelly, who had been a Playcentre Supervisor, so in 1967 we soon put our heads together and began to organise a Playcentre for Thames. (Jo later moved to Wellington.)

The first way Playcentre affected my life was learning the practicalities of constant fund-raising! We held our first few sessions in a disused cowshed, till we found a hall. Then there was tremendous learning about children’s play and development, legal requirements, group leadership training, community education, and simply becoming friends with a wide range of young families I would never have met otherwise, all pulling together for the sake of our children. We went on to create the Thames Valley-Coromandel Association. My youngest son used to come with me on tutoring and liaison visits to all the different Centres, asking eagerly, “Which playcentre today, Mum?”, as he had favourite equipment in each place! All 3 boys enjoyed going back to play at the Centre after they had left for school.

I loved the training, especially the practical observations of children at play, which gave me new insights into children’s thinking and feeling, stirring my desire to study Psychology. After doing all the Playcentre training – and learning the value of experiential workshops – I went on to advanced leadership training and became a (voluntary) facilitator of Group Life Laboratories for t􀁃n years. One thing led to another of course, and although I returned to school teaching part time, I was more and more interested in facilitating. Adult relationships, which led me into Counsellor training, and then Psychotherapy – and then of course into becoming a Counselling trainer. When I became Director of Counsellor Training, I had a strong sense of deja vu!

My grandchildren have benefited from Playcentre too; it was great to watch their minds expanding and the family enjoying a ready network of like-minded friends in a variety of cultures and lifestyles. Many of my Playcentre colleagues have gone on similar career-paths, becoming very successful in a variety of educational and human-relations fields, where that early training in observation and co­operative group-work has given them confidence and a solid grounding to build on. On the wider scale, the practical learning available in parent co-operative learning centres has a great deal to offer NZ society, and I hope the movement can survive the current economic pressures.

Congratulations on reaching the Diamond Jubilee!

Margaret Bowater,

Life Member. Thames Valley-Coromandel Playcentre Assocn.

Grace Ikiua

I attended Playcentre from 1990 – 2003 with 3 children. My centre was in a low socio-economic suburb of Auckland. During this my time at centre I was the centre PR person, Treasurer and Centre coordinator. These roles saw me move into association roles of Liaison Officer and Then for two years President of the Auckland Assn. I was also involved in leading parent education and assisting in writing the programs. I also took part in the contract that Auckland assn. had in implementing Te Whariki. I was also the Federation PR person for a year. Even after my children moved to school, I continued my association with my local centre and today I am a friend of the Auckland Assn

All this experience and personal development enabled me to work as a facilitator for women program that lead to me obtaining a permanent full-time job with Work and Income as a case manager. I then applied for a position at the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) and used my experiences in Playcentre to support application with experiences and knowledge to meet the expectations. I have worked for this agency for 4 years and at presently have the position of Investment Advisor with the TEC in the fields of Gateway (a school program) and Adult and Community Education.

During my years at Playcentre I obtained Federation Certificate and since have been able to complete my BA.

Playcentre participation enabled me to have the confidence to stand of the BOT for my local school and eventually I was chairperson for 9 years and was on the BOT for the intermediate school. I was involved it the education improvement process that took place in the schools in the area and worked as a project manager for 20 months in writing, developing, implementing and evolution the school’s project.

As well as my job, I am on a trust that runs an early childhood centre and outer school care. I have been able to develop staff to relate to the children and have a child-initiated program.

All my positions in the paid workforce all relate back to the voluntary time that I spent in Playcentre. Playcentre was a great place to spend time with my kids, improve my parenting skills and use my personal development to assist others.

Grace Ikiua

What others say

Playcentre parents are the kindest friendliest people you will ever meet. My children are now at school and it’s the Playcentre mum’s that say hello to each other and make you feel like you belong. ❤️ Playcentre families

- Fleur