Silverdale Playcentre will be 50 years old next year but its president, Sarah Abraham, fears that it may not reach that milestone.
Just four families are currently enrolled at the centre, which almost went into recess at the end of Term 2. Four families is the minimum required to operate under Playcentre’s constitution.
“We held a meeting with the president of the Association to decide whether to close the doors, or whether those that remained were prepared to give their all to keep it open,” Sarah says.
Sarah, who has three children at the Playcentre, says she is prepared to give her blood, sweat and tears. “We are so lucky with the facility we have and it would be really sad to close on the eve of 50 years in the community,” she says.
All around the centre, which is at 19 Wainui Road, the suburbs of Silverdale and Millwater are rapidly growing and many local preschools on the Coast are full, with waiting lists. Currently Whangaparaoa Playcentre has 28 families enrolled, and Red Beach has 25. The drop in numbers at Silverdale has only taken place within the year – previously it averaged around 10 families.
Sarah says that initially they thought the problem could be that a parent or whanau member (including grandparents) must be involved; the sessions are parent-led, as Playcentre’s philosophy is that parents are a child’s best first educators.
“Having a stay-at-home parent is a luxury these days and families moving into the area may have both parents working – especially with the price of housing and the need for two incomes,” she says.
In Term 3 they set up a Friday playgroup, for a gold coin donation, to introduce new families to the centre. “That helped to raise our profile – what we found was that lots of people don’t even know we’re here,” Sarah says.
Because sessions rely on parent volunteers, numbers fluctuate as children leave for school. This is a challenge for all Playcentres as they compete in the early childhood education sector.
With numbers critically low at Silverdale, the North Shore Playcentre Association – umbrella organisation for 21 Playcentres from Devonport to Tomarata – has stepped in to provide support and help maintain the quality of the sessions. Kana Parr-Whalley is working closely with the group as support worker.
She says Playcentre’s parent-led philosophy means that parents help each other to become more confident about raising children. Parents study NZQA-recognised programmes so they can run the sessions. “It’s education for the parents, as well as the kids,” Kana says. “Having young children can be isolating and talking with others at Playcentre you find out you’re not the only one.”
Kana says a centre needs a minimum of 10 families to be on a stable footing. Only one in the Association’s area has closed in the last 10 years or more. Asked whether she thinks Silverdale Playcentre will survive, she is non-committal. “It’s hard to say whether it can be turned around. Other Playcentres have hit a rough patch and I’ve seen them work through that and keep going. This facility has a lot of potential and we are trying hard here.”
Sarah was a Playcentre child. She says since she became a mum herself, she has made friends for life through Playcentre, but key for her is the philosophy of parent-led education. “The first five years go so fast and then your children are at school five days a week. So I want to play alongside them and teach them everything I know, while I have them with me. That time is so special and important to both children and parents.”
This term will be make or break – a meeting will be held on September 20 at the Playcentre, 12.30pm, to consider its fate. It is open to the public and past members. Enquiries can be made, during term time, by phoning 426 3282.
• Playcentre is a community-based early childhood education provider, which began in New Zealand. Japan has also introduced Playcentres.
• The first Playcentre opened in Wellington in 1941 and there are now more than 470 around the country.
• Children can attend Playcentre up to the age of six
• Silverdale Playcentre occupies the building that was once Silverdale School. The building is owned by the Playcentre Association but the site belongs to Auckland Council
• Each Playcentre sets its own fees, which are generally kept to affordable levels for local families. Silverdale charges $40 per term. As Playcentre is a licensed early childhood provider, members are able to use their 20 hours free allowance there.