Playcentre

Life has been even busier since my aunt arrived in mid April…on top of all the changes in our lives already. Boys turned 22 months old on May 2nd, and they are very active. Their sleep schedule now is more predicable, 6:30pm to 5:30pm with one nap during lunch hour (it was mid morning but going to playcentre changed it to noon time).

We feel so fortunate to live in New Zealand with our boys. There are many options to take the kids to different early education centers. The very unique place is the playcentre, I’ve wanted to take them there ever since I got here but just didn’t feel confident to watch both of them by myself, after all, they are still under 2 1/2 years old, and they don’t quite have a sense of danger yet (don’t really want them to learn the hard way). So as soon as we finalized my aunt’s travel plan, I applied for the closest playcentre on Park Rd started on April 24th. The government subsidizes the childcare costs greatly in New Zealand, the majority of the people can send their children to daycare at no cost at all, luckily playcentre is recognized it is equally treated as many other childcare services as well. So just as daycare, in-home care, going to playcentre is pretty much free for everyone. Unfortunately Michael’s gross income just went over the threshold for 100% subsidies, but we only need to play $45 per term (10 weeks) in the end for two boys, which is still very cheap. They also reimburse the tickets for taking the kids to shows like Capital E and Baby Pop in June. When I expressed concerns about not being able to take the kids back the next term to Brigit, she said they would apply for a full time caregiver to watch one of the boys, and the government will pay for all the costs as well! I am just astonished when I heard this, New Zealand sure is not a place where you can get high wages (avg about USD $35,000 annual gross income), but it’s amazing what the government can do when they don’t spend your tax dollars on things like wars, they cover your medical care (we don’t even have to pay for insurance), childcare, and benefits to everyone if income is below certain threshold. We’d rather be taken care with a lower wage than making (seemingly) higher wages and end up paying for everything on our own.

We had three visits before we officially joined the Park Rd playcentre. I learned a great deal from other parents already in short two weeks. The main difference between playcentre and other childcare facilities are:

1) Parents stay with their children, and parents/whānau/caregivers run the playcentre. The philosophy is children learn best through play.

2) Promoting free play: children get to choose what they want to play, time they need to finish it, who they want to be friends with and share their play experiences. Adults are there to observe, help and keep them away from harm. Adults help all the children not just their own.

3) Ages from 0~6 years, there are various play areas (at Park Rd, there are 13 areas to play) for all kids to play. Younger kids learn from older ones, and older ones learn to care for the babies and toddlers.

Playcentre started in Wellington and gained huge popularity, and Palmerston North had the first local centre . It allows parents who want to stay home with their kids to explore and share a very unique social network and awesome place to play.

It is evident Lin and Li enjoyed this place tremendously. They immediately dived into the toys and play areas, pushing around the wooden toy tractors. By the time they finished their fourth visit, they were able to go on a large slide on their own, both finished the challenge course, and sit down for the morning sharing time (greeting and sharing). This to me is amazing, there’s no way we could have them play this rough at home or at a park, got so dirty and there’s no way they would have the opportunities to choose from such a variety of fun! And we are not encouraged to jump in and tell them what to do! They also got better at not carrying food around but staying at the designated morning tea areas. Most parents say children develop about 1~2 years in advance if they regularly come to playcentre, I can see why. Here we make our own play dough, fingerpaint, build our own toys, tool station, and food! There’s a kitchen, adult’s tea room, library, office (with a color printer and a laptop to make portfolios), and kids hand-washing station, toilet training area, shower, etc.

Today is Whānau Day, Whānau is maori for extended or non-nuclear family, because Michael can’t make it there during weekdays today he will be visiting the playcentre for the first time. I am so excited about showing him around and having him see how the boys do!

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