More playcentre volunteers needed
Susan McKellar had never sent an email before she got involved with Playcentre.
Now she creates advertisements that are sent out around the Horotiu community and writes policy for the local centre.
And Maree McNulty also quickly got hooked and is increasingly identifying with a phrase she hears often: ''I came to Playcentre for my kids but I stayed for myself''.
''Once we started we couldn't stop, really. It was too good.''
But the centres the two women are involved with are in very different circumstances.
Playcentres are run by co-operatives of parents who are volunteers, and many hands make light work. While the Peachgrove Playcentre where Mrs McNulty is secretary is thriving with around 32 families including dads and grandparents, Ms McKellar's more rural centre in Horotiu has just seven - so she is covering a few different jobs until the numbers buck up again.
The situation is becoming increasingly difficult for Playcentres around New Zealand - pressure to return to the workforce means parents often lack time to volunteer and there are a number of other all-day early childhood services.
A national strategic review of Playcentre is now underway to look at how the association, which has been running in New Zealand for around 60 years, can adapt. And many centres will be opening their doors this week for Playcentre Awareness Week (March 2-8).
At the Horotiu Playcentre there's ''active saving'' going on while the numbers are low, but Ms McKellar said there was plenty of interest and remains positive. ''It's just riding the train until we build up our membership."
They have found creative money-saving methods, like having a trip day each week so there are no centre running costs or bringing ingredients from home if baking is planned. And the experience has been valuable for her because she has become ''a bit of a whizz'' on the computer and gained a huge amount of confidence for when she re-enters the workforce, she said.
At Peachgrove Playcentre, Mrs McNulty said being involved with your child's education was the ''ultimate Kiwi do-it-yourself thing'' in a way, and because she has the time she currently puts around 15 hours into Playcentre each week.
She also highly valued what she learnt from Playcentre training towards a diploma in early childhood and adult education and said her centre was now seeing parents who came through themselves bring their own children.
''I think it would be a real tragedy if these children that are at Playcentre now don't get the opportunity to bring their children,'' she said.
The Waikato has 23 Playcentres, and word of mouth gets most feet through the door, Waikato Association president Kara Daly said.
The hands-on aspect and opportunities for further education tend to appeal.
''You don't have to drop your child and leave their education and care to someone else... and New Zealand is unique in providing that opportunity''.
Currently Waikato centres range from those in a strong position- full rolls and multiple sessions per week - to those ''really struggling in terms of numbers, in terms of finances, just trying to keep the doors open at the moment."
Funding comes from parent fees, fundraising and the majority from the government. But goverment dollars are numbers-based so struggling centres find themselves in a kind of catch-22, she said - more work for fewer members, and less money to do it with.
The Waikato does have thriving rural centres bucking the trend - like Ruawaro (west Huntly) and Huimai (north of Morrinsville).However one of the region's oldest Playcentres - Roto-o-Rangi, south of Cambridge - will close in April due to low numbers and local families choosing early childhood education further afield.
On the flipside, the newest Playcentre in Raglan has plans underway to move into a purpose-built centre, hoped to be within the next 12 months.
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