Finding Our Place

Finding Our Place

As we wrap up the year with Christmas festivities, and I wonder if my almost two year old will be as afraid of the Santa at the Playcentre Christmas party as I apparently was at his age, it seems like the ideal time to reflect on our Playcentre journey so far.

Plenty of outings and activities kept us entertained during Elliott’s first year, but we were doing things haphazardly, without a sense of purpose or belonging. Our needs changed as Elliott grew; he seemingly went from being a baby to a toddler overnight. I wanted to find us a community to belong to, so one day in February I decided to visit Landsdowne Terrace Playcentre. It immediately felt like a good fit. We joined the waiting list and, before too long, were welcomed in.

Elliott was 15 months old when we started attending, initially just one session per week. I was delighted to be able to let Elliott explore and play. At home and elsewhere I was increasingly doling out the word ‘no’ and feeling rotten about doing it. The world we live in isn’t really designed for toddlers, I noticed, but Playcentre is.

It’s not where I’d envisioned spending my mornings, but Elliott’s first interest was the child sized basin in the bathroom. Apparently lots of children share his enthusiasm for the running water and paper towels, all comfortably within reach. Playdough, I thought. When’s he going to want to play with playdough? I liked playdough. But no amount of coaxing would tempt him.

To begin with Elliott darted from one activity to the next, a whirlwind of excitement and enthusiasm. He was confident and uninhibited; I was exhausted. I was happy to let him do his own thing but frustrated that I never got to pause for a relaxed cup of tea or to finish a conversation. Mostly he liked investigating the contents of other people's lunch boxes;  pretending that anything and everything was a phone; and pressing the stereo buttons obsessively, even if someone was trying to run a dance activity.

Pack up time, when there was a desperately tired toddler clinging to my leg as I tried to vacuum or clean paint brushes, sometimes felt like a drag. But it’s far less grueling than approaching the same chaos at home without help. At Playcentre there’s always someone following you around with a brush and shovel to collect the tidy piles of glitter, sand and rose petals, that you’ve made with the broom. I am always amazed at how quickly a determined team of people can tidy up after a morning’s worth of awesomely messy play.

I knew I’d made the right choice when, during the July school holidays, we visited Hollis Park, which is adjacent to Landsdowne Terrace Playcentre. Elliott shook the Playcentre gate, desperate to go inside to play and see his friends. Knowing that he missed it made me aware of just how fond he was becoming of the place.

Yes, it took time to settle in. At first the newness of everything was tiring for us both. Learning everybody’s names, moving past small talk, and making friends didn’t happen instantly. It was a lot like starting a new job. Beginning two sessions a week recently helped to speed up the process.

Now I feel like we belong. Last week Elliott gleefully discovered two pieces of plastic toy toast, stuck colourful foam letters to them, and clung to them like they were the most amazing treasure for the remainder of the morning. He seems settled and less distractible these days. He’s even developing a fondness for playdough. He now ventures off on his own while I enjoy longer conversations with friends. He is still just as likely to investigate the contents of somebody else’s lunch box, but you can’t have everything.

Playcentre turned out to be exactly what we’d hoped it would be. I acknowledge that Playcentre won’t work for everyone but we’re so glad that it’s working for us. It gave us structure and connection where it had previously been lacking. You learn so much by actually being around other parents who are in the thick of it with you. Most of all I’m grateful that Elliott doesn’t have to be anything other than himself at Playcentre. This is exactly what I want for him.

We will return in 2017, having missed our friends over the summer. We’ll share stories of sleepless tent antics and holiday tantrums as we embark on another year of learning through play. We are very much looking forward to it.

And in case you were wondering, I’m pleased to report that Elliott wasn’t afraid of Santa, just disinterested. He was especially thrilled with the shared Christmas kai. It was like having dozens of lunch boxes to raid and nobody to stop you.

Posted: Tuesday 20 December 2016