Deb’s a dab hand in the playground

New Highbrook day care centre, Active Explorers, doesn’t have a carpenter or odd job man on the payroll. It has Nanny Deb! Handywoman, casual teacher, Girl Friday, Deb Lawson is a rare breed in today’s world as HELEN PERRY discovered.

Give Deb Lawson a toaster cord, light switch, vacuum cleaner pipe, plumbing joint, wooden pallet, an array of tins or any number of building materials and before you know it she will have created a bus, a boat or maybe a bulldozer.

The former primary school teacher, now turned early learning centre all-rounder, knows playtime paraphernalia doesn’t have to come from a children’s toy shop.

“There are hundreds of recyclable items which can be turned into durable and captivating equipment which will keep little ones busy on and off all day,” says Deb, who is best known as Nanny Deb to the centre’s children.

With as little as a hammer, some string and a few nails – well, maybe a bit more than that, a drill never goes astray – and this creative will soon have that bus, that boat or that bulldozer underway.

Not to mention the likes of a music wall, a sound centre, a hole-in-one golf ramp or even a whole adventure playground for little ones. “I’ve always been a bit of a handyperson,” she admits. “I hate waste and I like making things, so that works out well.”

Indeed, put the two together and what does Deb get – a wide range of preschool activities which foster children’s motor skills, imagination, sense of balance, eye/hand co-ordination and more.

But, perhaps more importantly, she is building respect for resources and recycling.

“I’m lucky to have a son who is a builder and a brother-in-law who is an electrician; I source a lot of items from their off cuts. Other tradies throw in bits and pieces too. Nail it all together, add a wheel and an old duvet cover and you have the makings of a sail boat or take an electrical spool, an old TV remote, some keys and a pot of paint and I’m on the way to constructing a handsome car for pre-schoolers.”

Deb says there’s always something going begging and by using a little imagination, parents and others can save money and gain a great deal of satisfaction from their carpentry efforts.

“For example, you don’t have to be highly skilled to make an activity table. Once you have a suitable table or a board to form a table top, start attaching things such as light switches, counter bells, a zip, shoe laces, small tins that open and shut, a pile of pierced plastic bottle tops slid down a blunted of nail so they can twist and turn, Velcro…in fact, anything tactile that feels, good, makes a noise, moves and inspires curiosity.

“Little children will spend hours turning, twisting, banging, ringing and exploring the table and it will probably be a more durable, more exciting and less expensive than a shop bought plastic model.”

While Deb never seems to tire of creating new educational ideas to foster interaction and a sense of adventure, she says at Active Explorers it is respect for the planet’s resources and commitment to recycling that impresses her.

“Children here learn to clean up after themselves and to appreciate that what some people call waste, usually has many other uses. Hopefully, this is a lesson they will take with them through life. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the chance to use my skills in a practical way while still interacting with youngsters.”