For Bec and Paul Roper-Gee, Playcentre is a second home, an extension of their family and the heart of their community. For daughters Isla and Annabella it is a place where ‘anything is possible’.
Bec bubbles with enthusiasm as she talks of the spontaneous, exciting, rewarding moments that keep her coming back to Shirley Playcentre after eight years. Reality is that her daughters wouldn’t have it any other way. Isla (now 9) started when she was 18 months old. Younger sister Annabella (4) started when she was 4 weeks.
For these kids Playcentre has always been a place where ‘anything can happen’, says Bec. ‘When Isla was at Playcentre she would say things like, “let’s get out the boxes and make cars today, mum!” so we would.’ As the Coordinator at Shirley, this input ‘made planning really easy’.
Even if the girls’ out-of-the-box ideas don’t get the green light at home, ‘they’ll just do it at Playcentre - with me or another parent', says Bec.
For Isla making potions was a favourite activity – and to some extent still is. ‘It would be the middle of winter and there would be some poor adult outside with a gang of kids mixing up a potion. Isla always loved creating things, and there was always an enormous mess.’ Bec adds that ‘now the messy stuff happens mostly in the bath’.
When Isla went to school, alongside three of her Playcentre friends, Bec missed her creative, independent presence on session. However, she took delight in the time she got to spend with six-month-old Annabella.
‘She was a contented baby and was perfectly happy watching the older kids. She also spent a lot of time in the sandpit eating sand.’ The only time Annabella kicked up a fuss was when they arrived: ‘she would be in the front-pack kicking her legs with excitement!’
No longer contented as an observer, this four-year-old is dictating the day’s play just like her big sister did. Annabella enjoys imaginary play – being part of a gang of paw patrol pups or operating a ‘recycling truck’ with her friend Jack. It’s creative and spontaneous – but not nearly as messy as potion-making.
Thinking about her second daughter, Bec comments on what Annabella doesn’t get to do. ‘There was a family who wanted to join Playcentre, but were struggling because their daughter was already doing about four activities. It made me think about Annabella’s “deprived” childhood’, she says, ironically. You see Annabella doesn’t do music or gymnastics or swimming. ‘She “does” Playcentre', says Bec, 'which means she gets to do it all.’
Annabella gets all the music and dance and gymnastics and athletics a child could want, and so much more besides. As Paul says, ‘Playcentre been a great way for kids to develop their social skills and learn all sorts of things in an interesting way’.
Playcentre isn’t a particular activity or subject to learn; nor is it simply a place you go or a date in the diary. Whilst there is a time and place for sessions, Playcentre is all about connecting with children’s lives. Ideas for play come from children’s experiences at home, and the interests and intrigue stimulated on session may be further explored at home. You only have to listen to the animated conversations that follow sessions or check out the colourful concoctions Isla creates during bath-time to realise that ‘Playcentre’ is very much at home in the Roper-Gee household.
Paul and Bec appreciate both the friendships the girls have developed with other children and the strong relationships they have with other adults who are now part of their lives. When asked what Playcentre is, Bec says simply, ‘Playcentre is my community’.
A vibrant, supportive and occasionally messy community that her kids love.
Posted: Wednesday 24 August 2016