As far as picking a day-in-the-life of Talia Goodger goes it's seemingly a poor one: a wet morning with 23 preschoolers at Balmoral's Playcentre.

But expectation of toddler-grade cabin-fever is misplaced.

Some kids do head inside when a particularly heavy downpour starts, but others happily stay outside in rainjackets and gumboots.

Mrs Goodger and the 15 other parents keep an eye on the children, who range in age from 1 to 5, but otherwise let them do as they please.

Advertisement

Some are painting decorations, others spray brightly coloured dye on to a sand volcano foaming with baking soda or take pretend calls at a bank of old telephones.

Parents are at the heart of Playcentre, running each centre in a collective.

Each family is asked for a donation of $50 a term, and parents are required to accompany their child for a majority of sessions.

Mrs Goodger, whose daughter, Poppy Graham, 4, is following in the Playcentre footsteps of her son Charlie, now 7, says the centre attracts people who want to be part of their child's development and not just drop them off at the gate.

So, do she and others here meet the definition of so-called "helicopter parents", who hover over their children and are loath to let them out of sight?

"Definitely not. To start with, that could be part of it for some people, but when you're here you want to have a break too, and you have that opportunity because other parents step in to help.

"Also, sometimes you come in and you are exhausted ... and you can't deal with your 3-year-old's issue with not wanting to go on that particular swing, say, and they turn up and deal with it. It works out really well."

That point is soon underlined when another parent starts reading a book to Poppy as we are talking. Later, Mrs Goodger makes Christmas decorations with other children, her own daughter nowhere in sight.

Advertisement

While it all appears a bit mad to the uninitiated, there is control.

Potential flashpoints are quickly identified and defused and the number of adults on deck means there is a remarkable lack of tantrums.

The mixed ages of the children also helps. At one point Poppy puts up the jacket hood of her friend Phoebe, 2, before they head outside, solemnly explaining, "Wet, wet".

The Balmoral Playcentre is a charity and receives Ministry of Education funding, but fundraises and applies for grants to make up the shortfall.

Some of the toys are from the 1970s and frequently taken home by members to be fixed up.

There are no paid positions within the 480 Playcentres in New Zealand. Instead, all adults undertake training and take on roles to run their centres.

That set-up irks some private early childhood operators, who argue the Playcentre training falls well short of what qualifies their own ECE teachers.

Mrs Goodger was a television production manager before taking time off to raise her children. She is now studying early childhood education at university part-time after the education classes sparked her interest.

She says her own philosophy - that parents are the first and foremost educators of their children - matches Playcentre's. Lifelong friends have been made through the Balmoral group, Mrs Goodger says.

"We're not religious but Playcentre is our community. When you go to church you have a community, and there's not a lot of that in this world anymore."