An Overview of Playcentres and Playgroups

Published on Monday, 18 September 2017
Last updated on Monday, 16 November 2020

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With a focus on child-led play and parental involvement, playcentres and playgroups have lots to offer families. 

Here, we look at the ways these early education services are run and the valuable experiences they provide for children, parents and their extended families.

What do playcentres and playgroups do? 

Essentially, playcentres and playgroups are parent-led early childhood education options. This means that rather than being run by teachers, playcentres are run cooperatively by parents, with the support of a national body called Playcentre Aotearoa. These community ‘villages’ offer learning opportunities for children and care-givers. Playgroups are community-based groups managed by parent and family volunteers. 

In these settings, children attend regular sessions and parents are actively involved in their child’s early learning and care. Playcentre Aotearoa recognises parents as the ‘First and most important teachers in their children’s lives’ and both playcentres and playgroups give parents a hands-on role and create support networks for families. 

Licensed playcentres and certificated playgroups are guided by Te Whāriki, the early childhood curriculum

The Te Whāriki curriculum focuses on:

  • Four principles: Empowerment, holistic development, family and community, and relationships; and 
  • Five strands: Wellbeing, belonging, contribution, communication and exploration  

There is an emphasis on child-led play, with a wide range of activities, resources and experiences available. Playcentre Aotearoa says, ‘Each centre has quality play environments with over 16 areas of play’ and children are given opportunities to follow their interests and strengths as they learn to observe, explore, participate, try, wait, respect, experiment, wonder, climb and balance.

Playcentre and playgroup activities may include:

  • Art and craft
  • Play dough
  • Sand and water play
  • Singing, dancing and music-making
  • Construction
  • Dressing up and role-playing
  • Physically active games
  • Gardening
  • Baking (at playcentres)

Who are playcentres and playgroups for?

Playcentres and playgroups cater for children from birth to school age, along with their mums, dads, grandparents, extended whãnau and other care-givers.

Playcentre has a Te Whare Tikanga Mãori group for whãnau Mãori and there are specialised sessions for infants, called Space at Playcentre and Babies Can Play.

There are playgroups with a cultural and language focus. Ngā Puna Kōhungahunga playgroups encourage learning in and through Māori language and culture, while Pacific Island playgroups emphasise Pasifika languages and cultures, including Samoan, Tongan, Cook Island, Niuean, Tokelauan, Tuvaluan and Fijian.

Montessori or Steiner playgroups are also an option for families.

What services do playcentres and playgroups provide? 

Playcentres and playgroups provide early education and care by way of sessions. 

Playcentre sessions:

  • Are run as a group or in teams
  • Last between two-and-a-half and four hours
  • Have an adult to child ratio varying from 1:5 to 1:3 
  • May be attended by children without their parents on set days, depending on the child’s age and how confident they are

Playgroup sessions: 

  • May be less formal and operate out of community halls, church buildings and other community-shared environments 
  • Occur one to five times per week, for up to four hours per day
  • Have an adult to child ratio of at least 1:4
  • Require more than half the children to have a parent/care-giver in the same play area at the same time

What to bring:

Depending on the child’s age and what the playcentre or playgroup provides, families should take along whatever they need for the session, such as food and drink, comfortable clothing, sun protection and nappies.  

What are the benefits of playcentres and playgroups?

Playcentres and playgroups offer opportunities for children and parents to learn, grow, play and work together.

Children benefit from playcentres by:

  • Choosing their own learning and play experiences
  • Developing skills
  • Making friends in a mixed age setting and spending time with family
  • Having fun in an engaging, safe and supportive environment

Parents benefit from playcentres by:

  • Taking the lead in the education and care of their child 
  • Getting opportunities to play with and alongside their child
  • Building lasting friendships with other parents in their playcentre ‘village’
  • Feeling a sense of belonging through shared decision-making and responsibilities
  • Being given informal and formal opportunities to learn. Adults gain transferrable skills as they self-manage the centre and can attend workshops, get first-aid training and complete a nationally-recognised NZQA education programme through playcentre

This free education programme equips adults with a recognised qualification based on:

  • Learning in child development
  • Play and learning
  • Parenting skills
  • Planning and delivering early childhood education
  • Facilitation and management skills 

At playgroup, children benefit from having regular opportunities to play, learn and socialise, while parents get to share these opportunities with their children, run the sessions and get involved with the community.

Playgroups have the benefit of being: 

  • Quick to set up 
  • Flexible
  • Subject to less regulatory requirements than other early childhood education services
  • Responsive to community needs

How does licensing work for a playcentre or playgroup?

To be a licensed playcentre and run sessions funded by the Ministry of Education, a playcentre must meet the licensing criteria  for centre-based services, comply with the Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008  and meet certain funding conditions.

Licensed playcentres must also:

  • Be affiliated with Playcentre Aotearoa, which is recognised as an early learning service by the Ministry of Education
  • Be organised, equipped and managed on a cooperative basis
  • Have programmes at least partly provided by parents of children attending the session
  • Have no more than 30 children at a session (the exact number will be listed on the playcentre’s license)
  • Meet ‘people requirements’ around adult to child ratios, first-aid qualifications and so on

Playgroups do not need to be licensed. They can also operate without a certificate, however, to receive government funding and support from the Ministry of Education they must be certificated and comply with the Education (Playgroups) Regulations 2008 on certain standards of education and care. 

Playgroup certification criteria relates to:

  • Curriculum 
  • Premises and facilities
  • Health and safety practices
  • Management and administration
  • Parent to child ratios

For information on setting up a playgroup, click here.

Cost of playcentres: Playcentre is free and is subsidised by the Ministry of Education, but some centres do ask for a donation or a small term fee from families.

Each playcentre offers three free visits before enrolment, so parents and families are encouraged to go along for a look and ask about the cost of attending. 

Cost of playgroups: Playgroups also have varying costs. In some groups, parents make regular financial contributions, and in others, no payment is required. 

Certificated playgroups receive government funding and can apply for special grants. Some groups raise their own funds through donations, fund-raising, community grants or from other agencies. 

Government funding: The government offers 20 hours of free child care per week (up to six hours per day) for three-, four- and five-year-olds attending eligible early education services, including playcentres. 

Childcare Subsidy is also available to some families attending playcentres and playgroups. 


NZ Government Education

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