An ode to playcentre that was.

I am watching my 7 year old play. She is playing “play school” (called this as she is the only parent there), there are many students (soft toys). They all have different needs and enjoyments, “this one likes making stick houses, this one makes rivers using pipes and cutting them and putting stones in them – they so look like real rivers…” Helena is finding a place for them all. They get jiggled when they cry, she feeds them, shows them around but most importantly she talks to them (as she does real little kids) with an actual interest in them and their play and has ideas on how to value/find/extend/add to/enhance these made up characters in their made up play. She shows them how to join in play with others, negotiates their made up conflicts with kindness. This happens for hours. We went to playcentre for 5 and a half years. Initially Helena was the baby then she was a five year old being a role model, doing genuine play with children half her age, real babies.

Playcentre is a parent led and run cooperative which only does child led play. Children are not segregated by age. So there are lots of parents on a session with the lots of kids of different ages and all this is a recipe for a lot of interactions, communication and role modeling. It’s a quality learning experience for children and adults. Playcentre is where she learnt her skills. Thank you playcentre for teaching her kindness (“playcentre is the source of kindness” Helena 6), empathy, a large vocabulary, problem solving, dispute resolution and lots of other equally valuable and important stuff. Thanks for letting me come too so Helena could see that I valued her and the stuff she learnt, letting her know that this learning is the most important thing in our world. When I see her with little kids it’s obvious she picked all this up, and she is so very good at it “I can teach you about learning, you need to play. You learn from playing” Helena 7.

The problem is I can’t keep it up. When I watch Helena and I recognise her interest in education and child development, as it’s one that I also have and enjoy, I am saddened as I deeply know that it is not a career with any recognition (anyone can do it/unskilled etc) and it is a career that is financially undervalued. I can intellectualize/wordasize this process so I can make my undervalued profession ‘sound better’, justify why I should get paid at least minimum wage (currently I’m not) but I’ll never be able to own a house, or retire unless I get a ‘proper’ job. It’s a hard contradiction to want the best for your kid and to know that should they get the best they will be subject to being undervalued. Even the children you look after who love you still think you are doing a lesser job than their absent parents. They don’t seem to equate your relative poverty with their parents. Even I feel the “but I want more for her” thoughts. Is this a time or New Zealand colonial problem? Do/did other cultures place more value on people who work with kids? We use to value teachers (primary not ECE/governesses) more, it was an esteemed job. I totally support women who skills lie elsewhere who want to work outside their children but why don’t they support me to be equal with them. All those people talking about the hard job of parenting still expect, and often need, to get child care for next to nothing…

Don’t worry I’ll still aid Helena in her interest, find her small children to engage with, get her babies out from the toy library, wait while she sorts them out before we leave the house, and I’ll listen to their antics when their Helena proudly recounts them.

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