It is almost ten on a quiet Wednesday morning in the children’s playroom at a non-profit Shatin play centre. Fifty parents are gathered, waiting in a circle, holding their children closely to their sides. A moment later their leader Esther steps inside the circle, and begins a magical, joyful couple of hours for both children and their parents. The children are from grassroots families in the surrounding community, but the toys and equipment dotted around the room traveled just a little further: they were chosen for the playgroup from Crossroads’ own warehouse in Tuen Mun.
Three times a week, Esther leads a playtime that children and their parents can attend together. It’s an environment far removed from the strict structure and expectations faced by so many children in Hong Kong kindergartens and preschools. This playgroup’s vision is different, and Esther explains what makes it so special. “In Hong Kong, parents are crazy to get an opportunity to play with their children. In our playroom we provide space for them to have ‘messy play’ together and we also teach them parenting skills.” It was a joy for Crossroads to provide much of the play equipment and supplies that the playgroup uses to help local families.
For Esther, raised in Hong Kong herself, unlearning some of her own traditional ways of raising and teaching kids was significant. “My eyes were opened when I attended a conference where I heard about all the benefits for children to be able to play, get dirty and be stimulated to be creative, independent and responsible for themselves.”
Charles is one of the smiling parents enjoying today’s play session. With his wife, they visit regularly to have some quality time with their son Morris. Smiling from ear to ear, it’s obvious that it’s not just Morris who’s having a great time. “I think this place is great,” Charles says. “We live in Tai Wai in a standard apartment. For Morris unfortunately there is very little room to play. When he was a baby that wasn’t a problem, but now he’s started to walk and really needs more space. It’s great he can come here to play and to make new friends. Every time he comes here he gets a great smile on his face and gets really excited. Unfortunately I never had a chance to play like this as a child. It’s great he is having it here.”
In a city where space is at a premium, it’s a joy to help create a space where children can be children!