Twinkling with the Stars

Twinkling with the Stars

Equipped with their tea lights, the children of Dunsandel Playcentre celebrated Matariki by playing hide-and-go-seek in the dark.

Matariki is the Maori name for a group of seven stars known as the Pleiades star cluster, the seven stars commonly thought of as sisters. The first rising of the cluster occurs late May/early June, which announces the Maori New Year.

A time for reflecting on the year that has been and for remembering those who’ve passed away, the emergence of Matariki is also a call for celebration – of the earth, of new life and of the people who are special to us.

For the kids at Dunsandel Playcentre, celebrating Matariki was not about star-gazing and quiet reflection, so much as it was about running about flashing their tea lights on and off. Like the cluster of stars punctuating the night sky and heralding the New Year, the kids transformed a familiar playground into a thrilling new arena.

Katharine Sheppard has been involved with Dunsandel Playcentre for over five years, since her eldest daughter Claire (6 ½) was 15 months old. The younger two boys, William (4) and Thomas (nearly 2) each started Playcentre at the age of three weeks. Playcentre is a ‘home away from home’ for the Sheppard family. As Katharine explains, ‘we are like a big family, and the kids just love getting together each week’.

There is something even more special about getting together outside of usual session time, especially if it’s dark! In preparation for the event, ‘the kids made lanterns on session, decorating plastic jars with drawings, stamps and glitter’. On June 7 the families got together for fish ‘n’ chips at Playcentre; then, with full tummies and plenty of layers, they all ventured outside to look at the stars and the moon.

‘I had brought LED colour-changing tea lights along, and handed these out to the children to put in their lanterns’, says Katharine. ‘They thought it was amazing! In fact as soon as they got them, it was pretty much all about the tea lights.’

‘The kids loved navigating the playground in the dark. Then they started playing hide-and-go-seek together, deliberately switching off the tea lights. They couldn’t see for beans!’ Katharine recalls.

Katharine’s own 22-month-old son Thomas got into the spirit of things. ‘He kept tripping on the vertical log steps’. Of course, this robust Playcentre kid wasn’t remotely fazed – eager to get amongst the fun. In fact, as Katharine points out, ‘they were all totally unfazed by the dark and the chaos!’

One of the unique things about Playcentre is the mixed-age dynamic that occurs – because babies, toddlers and young children share the space and play alongside each other. The younger ones absorb so much from watching the older kids, while the bigger children develop a greater awareness of the littler ones.

On this night, there were 13 kids, ranging in age from 22 months to 13 years, ‘playing together, the same game!’ explains Katharine.

Truth be told, if anyone was fazed, it was the grown-ups. And not by the dark or by the delirium of their kids, but by the cold. ‘Because we weren’t running around, we froze our butts off!’ says Katharine.

At 8pm, ‘once we had corralled them all in’, it was time to head home to bed. ‘I asked my three kids what their favourite part of the day was – which is something I always do – and they said it was playing hide-and-go-seek with everyone.’

Marking the arrival of the Maori New Year with fish ‘n’ chips, with flickering lights and with plenty of running and squealing captured the essence of Matariki – an occasion that is all about celebrating new beginnings and being together. Like the stars at the centre of the story, the kids radiated with excitement at being amongst friends.

Katharine emphasises how ‘low-key’ the occasion was. But, however you look at it, being with friends after dark with colour-changing tea lights is a thrilling combination – creating memories that will twinkle in these kids’ minds whenever they think back to their Playcentre days. 

By Kate Barber

Pictured: Matariki: a time for celebrating milestones. Here is Emily with daughter, Chloe, who started school the next day.

Twinkling with the Stars

Posted: Monday 20 June 2016