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New Zealand Playcentre Federation
Abbreviation NZPF
Motto Whānau tupu ngātahi - Families growing together
Formation 1941
Type co-operative
Purpose High quality early childhood education - a co-operative whānau/family experience
  • New Zealand
Region served
New Zealand
Parents of children attending

Playcentre is an early childhood education and parenting organisation which operates parent-led early childhood education centres throughout New Zealand and offers parents the opportunity to gain a Diploma in Early Childhood and Adult Education.[1]

When the first playcentre was opened in 1941 the prevailing philosophy in New Zealand child education was that education did not really start until children entered the formal, disciplinarian, school system. Playcentres instead recognised the value of early child education and specifically the educational value of child-initiated play.[2]

Playcentre is indigenous to New Zealand,[3] but is now also established in Japan.[4]

Their mission is stated as "Whānau Tupu Ngātahi - Families growing together."

History and spread[edit]

The movement started during the Second World War to provide a break for mothers as well as means to allow for the social development of the child within a cooperative environment. The first such playcentre was established in 1941 in the Wellington suburb of Karori.[5] From the start each playcentre was a community driven initiative, organised by parents, utilising existing premises (e.g. church or community halls) and using parents as teachers. This allowed the easy spread of the movement, now encompassing over 450 centres around New Zealand and explains why they are the dominant provider of early childhood education in rural areas.[2]

Gwen Somerset, Joan Wood, Inge Smithells and Beatrice Beeby were among the founders of the organisation.

The Playcentre model has been copied by groups in other countries, including the Japan Playcentre Association.[6]


Playcentre was instrumental in introducing the concept of education through play and through child-initiated activities to the early childhood setting in New Zealand. This philosophy has since been adopted throughout all New Zealand early childhood education centres through the New Zealand national curriculum for early childhood education, Te Whāriki.[7] They remain a champion of child-led non-structured play as the best form of education in early childhood.

The organisation believes that parents are the first and best educators of their children and children learn best when they initiate their learning through play (child-initiated play). Within the centres children and adults learn alongside each other, in agreement with the socio-cultural model of learning which posits that a child learns best when surrounded by trusted members of his or her community.[8]

Each playcentre is a cooperative. Parents decide how their centre will run and are responsible for the education of their children. Parents also make decisions giving direction to how their association (regional body) and the New Zealand Playcentre Federation (national body) will run.


Children attend half day sessions, no more than 5 times a week. Children from 0 to 6 years, normally in mixed age groups, attend sessions run by parents - a minimum of 1 adult to five children. Parents manage all aspects of each playcentre, including the premises, administration, education of the children and education of themselves.


Every centre is part of a regional association. There are currently 33 regional associations,[9] which provide support and training and are governed by their member Playcentres. In turn each association is supported by the national body, The New Zealand Playcentre Federation. The Federation is governed by the associations and provides support to meet the goals of the associations.

Playcentres are chartered early childhood education providers with the New Zealand Ministry of Education. Independent research and audits by the Education Review Office confirm the quality of Playcentre's programmes.

Adult education programme[edit]

Playcentre Education administers the NZQA approved Playcentre Diploma in Early Childhood and Adult Education.[10] The course assists parents in developing their parenting skills and their ability to facilitate early childhood education in a playcentre setting. The programme also helps members to learn how to work in a cooperative as well as being the training ground for Playcentre adult educators. The adult education programme is delivered at no cost to the learner.

Notable Playcentre people[edit]

Famous Playcentre alumni include New Zealand's first female Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Jenny Shipley,[11] New Zealand's first female Governor General, Dame Catherine Tizard,[12] the Olympic gold medallists, Caroline Evers-Swindell and Georgina Evers-Swindell, Colin Simon [13] (designer of the Christchurch Commonwealth Games 1974 games - Christchurch, New Zealand symbol and the Playcentre Logo), and Valerie Burns (Companion of the Queen's Service Order [14]).

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Katey Mairs, and The Pen Green Team (2013). Cath Arnold, ed. Young Children Learning Through Schemas: Deepening the dialogue about learning in the home and in the nursery. Routledge. pp. Chapter 8. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Densem, A. & Chapman, B. (2000). Learning together: The Playcentre Way. Auckland: New Zealand Playcentre Federation. ISBN 0-908609-36-1 p35
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Laurenson, P and Wylie, L.(2000) Millennium Special Edition: Playcentre People. Playcentre Journal, 109, 17
  12. ^ Stover, Sue (Ed). (2003). (Revised edition). Good clean fun: New Zealand’s Playcentre movement. Auckland: New Zealand Playcentre Federation. ISBN 0-908609-46-9 pp 99, 240.
  13. ^ Stover, Sue (Ed).(1998). Good clean fun: New Zealand’s Playcentre movement. Auckland: New Zealand Playcentre Federation. ISBN 0-908609-46-9 pp 122.
  14. ^ Johnson, Alexandra (10 June 2009). "Shaped the course of early childhood education". The Dominion Post. Retrieved 3 November 2011.