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No. 47 (June 1964)
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PLAY CENTRE AT WHAKATUTU

Whatatutu is about 10 miles inland from Gisborne. Mr Haymes, who sent in this account of the establishment of a play centre there, is head teacher at the Whatatutu School.

It all began over 18 months ago now, when one afternoon after school the Infant Mistress, Miss Ngaire Pewhairangi, and I got together to see if something could be done to assist these bright-eyed Maori youngsters, youngsters who when they entered school lacked some of the experiences that many other five-year-olds had.

We had heard how successful play centres had been in other communities, and we felt that this kind of pre-school education would be valuable for our children also. We had heard, too, how the play centre movement provides ways of increasing the contact and communication between parents and their children, how it allows the Mums and Dads to learn from the children at the same time that the children learn with Mum and Dad.

How Do You Begin?

How do we go about starting a play centre though? How do we run one? What facilities and equipment do we need? Where will all the equipment and finance come from? Who could help with the running of the centre? These were but a few of the multitude of posers which immediately presented themselves. The first thing, though, was to introduce the idea to our community and to see whether they felt that a play centre could be of benefit to them and their children.

Use of Spare Schoolroom

Thanks to Miss Pewhairangi a very brief but extremely valuable meeting with Mr A. Grey, pre-school officer with the Maori Education Foundation, was arranged at Te Karaka one morning in August. After this, the play centre movement was discussed at other gatherings, some well attended, others not so well attend-

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The Whatatutu play centre has the enthusiastic support of the parents, who find that this early experience is of great value to their children when they start attending school.

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Photography by Ans Westra
Some equipment was given to the centre, some was made by the children's fathers, and some was bought with funds raised by the Committee.
Sessions are held every Tuesday afternoon in a spare room at the school.

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ed. At one Home and School gathering, members of the Hawkes Bay Board Inspectorate, Messrs H. Campbell and H. McMillan both spoke favourably of the idea. Later in October Mr A. Grey visited Whatatutu and spoke to a large gathering of Maori folk in the Mangatu Hall. He went away greatly impressed with the attendance and with the enthusiasm of those present. In November the Hawkes Bay Education Board agreed to allow us to make use of the spare room at the school as our head-quarters; this was a gesture which we greatly appreciated.

Time to Think About It

August to November: four months, and the centre not functioning yet. But although we would have liked to have seen it functioning, certain reactions had made us decide to adopt a ‘go slow’ programme, one designed to give the people plenty of time to think about it, time to realise that it was not something being forced upon them.

After the Christmas vacation tempo quickened. Early in the new year 25 parents attended a meeting at which Mr Grey, Mr H. Campbell, Mrs H. Sunderland, and myself spoke. This meeting had success written all over it before it began—success, success. A committee was formed with Mrs I. Renata as president and Mrs P. Smith as secretary-treasurer; Mesdames L. Brown, S. Haymes and T. Irwin volunteered to train as supervisors; and most heartening of all, the first session of the centre was set down for the following Thursday, 26 February.

Red Letter Day

What a red letter day for Whatatutu that turned out to be. I borrowed from the infant rooms at the school the equipment for the centre, used physical education mats, a bench, some balls, art paper and jars of paint. What a thrill it was, with 14 parents and 19 children all having a wonderful time together.

Since then considerable finance has been raised through a dance, football matches and card evenings; people have made donations of equipment to the centre; weekend courses have been organised and proved successful; and monthly meetings are held at the homes of parents to assist with obtaining the Mother Helper Certificate and the Supervisor's Certificate. What about Dad? Dad has played his part too—assisted with fund-raising ventures, attended the centre's sessions, helped with the provision of equipment.

What about the children themselves, how have they reacted? Far removed from the shy, restrained little toddlers of nine months ago, they now enter into their activities and experiences with gusto. It gives great satisfaction to see them enjoying themselves as they move freely and naturally, speaking over real telephones, being truck drivers, washing the dolls and their clothes, making cakes for afternoon tea. They can tell for themselves when it is play centre day—they have worked it all out. On one day the big children come to school, and then after lunch on the next day—it's Play Centre. That's right, on Tuesday afternoon.

And what of the future? Our path to success has not been a clear one; we have had our problems and disappointments and we will continue to have some. But with a continuation of the fine spirit and enthusiasm now apparent in our community, the future is bright for the play centre movement at Whatatutu.