Why Play School means so much to so many Australians

If you walk into a playground and start chanting “There’s a bear in there,” chances are someone else at that playground will join you with “and a chair. too”.

For 56 years, Play School has been teaching Australian children and their families games, stories, songs and craft ideas.

To mark 90 years of broadcasting, the ABC asked Australians to share what the organization has meant to them over the years via Your ABC Story.

A shared story has emerged of how Play School has made generations of Australians feel safe, happy and educated.

Benita Collings and John Waters appear in an episode of Play School in the 1960s. (ABC: archives)

“As a young child, my first television experience was being allowed to watch ABC, Play School being one of the shows I loved,” Jade said in her submission to Your ABC Story.

“When my younger brother was born in 2001, my love for Play School was rekindled and I loved watching the show with him. That’s when we bonded, watching hosts such as Jay, Rhys and Georgie.

“I now have a daughter of my own and can’t wait to share this amazing show with her.”

Play School was first broadcast by ABC on July 18, 1966, as a copy of the BBC’s Play School program, and it is the second longest running children’s television show in the world.

Play School Plush Toys Humpty, Big Ted, Little Ted and Jemima celebrate 50 years in TV with party hats, cakes and sandwiches.
The presenters change but the toys are like familiar friends to many children.(ABC Kids)

Although the program has changed over the years to reflect Australian society, the key aspects have remained the same.

Liz Giuffre, senior lecturer in communications at the University of Technology Sydney, says that’s part of the program’s ongoing appeal.

“There’s something very familiar about Play School. Of course the presenters change…but you have the old classics of Big Ted and Little Ted,” Dr. Giuffre said.

A white arched window displayed on a black background.
The differently shaped windows, an early introduction to the show, were a quirky element that the UK version lacked.(ABC: archives)

For many parents, watching Play School with their children can make them feel more connected, as they share something they have loved since childhood.

“I grew up watching the ABC watching Play School and felt a sense of pride when my son watched it when he was little,” Michael wrote for Your ABC Story.

“I love watching Play School as a kid and reliving all the fun games, songs and characters with my daughter. So many generations have enjoyed this fabulous show so much,” Rebecca wrote.

The familiarity of the program’s format brings “double comfort,” says Dr. Giuffre, because parents know the program is comforting for children with familiar faces and activities, and it can also bring back memories of happy times for children. parents.

For Tara, Play School was her “safe place”.

“Watching Play School as a kid helped me get away from it all, especially during story time,” Tara wrote.

“For half an hour a day, I could see what kind and safe adults looked like.

“It was an experience of comfort in an otherwise very chaotic childhood.”

Play School presenters George and Benita are seated next to each other.  They are smiling and both holding a child's doll.
George Spartels (holding Hamble) and Benita Collings (with Meeka) on Play School in the late 1980s. (ABC: play at school)

Dr Giuffre said this comfort factor was why Play School was so important during the closures, as a place to familiarize and reassure children and their parents.

And although Play School doesn’t usually mention what’s going on in the world at the time, because wars and politics are “adult issues”, Dr Giuffre said she was delighted to see them. doing the special Handwashing Song segment at the start of the covid19 pandemic.

“Something like COVID, it affected these kids…it changed what they were able to do, and [Play School presenters] had roles to play,” she said.

“We’ve never had something hit us all so immediately and for so long. No one was affected.

“I was so grateful that [Play School and the Wiggles] were there because we felt like we could work with them.”

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Play the song Wash your hands from school

Teaching young children and their parents

Play School is a grassroots educational program and many Australians have been helped to learn their numbers, colors and days of the week by watching Play School.

“Play School gave me hours of entertainment and the clock segment taught me how to tell the time on an analog clock!” Tayla wrote to Your ABC Story.


The program has also helped many people, young and old, to learn English.

“I was eight and didn’t know a word of English,” Steph wrote of moving to Australia as a child.

“I watched Play School for a year to learn the days of the week and so much more.

“I came home crying almost every day because of the language barrier, but Play School was always there to cheer me up.”

“My French husband arrived in Australia in 1990 with barely a word of English,” writes Meredith.

“He was rushing home from his language lessons in time to watch Play School. The simple, repetitive language helped him learn not only English, but also Australian.”

While Play School is written by people with expertise in early childhood education, the presenters are actors, musicians, and comedians who typically don’t have a background in education.

Alanna wrote that she grew up watching Play School when it was black and white.

While studying to be a teacher, Alanna worked on an assignment comparing early childhood television programming.

“One of the differences being that Play School was shot in one take. Minimal margin for error,” she wrote.

“All of the presenters brought their own style and personality to the table.”

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Black and white photos by John Hamblin and Noni Hazelhurst.  They are both holding stuffed animals on the Play School board.
John Hamblin and Noni Hazelhurst with some favorite old Play School toys.(ABC: archives)

Many Play School presenters have gone on to successful careers outside of the program, but there are a few favorites over the years who are best known for their Play School roles.

Benita Collings was the longest-serving presenter, appearing in 401 episodes over 30 years, with John Hamblin in second place with 357 episodes and 29 years.

“That’s something I would love to go back to now if they had great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers,” Mr Hamblin told ABC’s Overnights program in 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary. of Playschool.

“As soon as I walked into the studio where we were doing the auditions, there were all these colored blocks and toys and stuff and I thought, ‘This is awesome.’

“They’re going to pay me to do this. I really enjoyed it all.

“It was the only job that really meant anything to me…because it felt good.”

Play School continues to air on ABC TV and digital platforms such as ivory and the ABC Kids app, and as long as kids and their parents feel safe and entertained, there’s no reason Play School won’t be around 50 years from now.


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