A playgroup on wheels

Issue: Volume 95, Number 16

Posted: 5 September 2016
Reference #: 1H9d4C

The Counties Manukau play truck is offering a friendly and relaxed introduction to early childhood education in the area.

An informal approach to encouraging participation in early childhood education is having great results in South Auckland.

The Counties Manukau Kindergarten Association’s play truck is bringing play-based education to local tamariki and aims to build relationships with their whānau.

The concept was sparked by the association’s CEO Karen Shields, who saw a need for an informal early childhood education experience for the most vulnerable families in the region, and who herself was no stranger to driving and parking trucks.

“Other mobile services use vans, but we wanted a truck,” she says.

“I have a horse truck, and I was parking it one day and I thought ‘if people can’t come to us, we should go to them’.”

The truck is set up at public spaces such as schools, community venues and parks.

On board is a kitchenette, small tables and chairs, blackboards and colourful wall displays. A ramp leads outside where temporary fencing can be set up for an enclosed space and a gazebo for shade.

“Our play truck has a toilet on board and everything you might need to run a small playgroup. And it allows us to choose a different location every time,” she says.

And that is exactly what the play truck has been doing since it hit the road four years ago.

“The original play truck has been a roaring success in encouraging whānau and children to come and take a look at the ECE options available to them,” says Karen.

“Participation was a problem here. We have lots of areas where we didn’t have children attending any services. But after working like this, there are some areas where we don’t take the truck anymore because it’s simply not needed.”

Karen believes the secret to the initiative’s success is its informal approach.

“You don’t have to ask people to go out of their homes, you actually go to where they are – the children come out first usually, then the parents follow."

“It’s a very relaxed approach and the parents watch how the coordinators interact with the children, and what we have to offer, and they see how the children learn through play."

“Then we let them know about nearby playgroups they might want to attend, and we invite them to come and learn about other services they can use."

“It reduces a whole lot of barriers – especially to those parents without a car – it’s a good stepping stone to early childhood education.”

Initially funded by the Ministry of Education, the play truck now has good community buy-in, with local businesses donating equipment, funds, and food for the regular ‘whānau days’ held by the Counties Manukau Kindergarten Association.

Other community organisations, including Plunket and a Diabetes screening operation, are now offering mobile services in the area, and whānau are encouraged to visit a range of services as required.

Find more information about the Counties Manukau play truck on their Facebook page.

BY Melissa Wastney
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 3:10 PM, 5 September 2016

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