Each week, on a Wednesday at 12.20pm I collect my daughter, T, from pre-school and together with my youngest, G, we walk to a church run toddler and under 5’s group, “Sticky Fingers” (SF).
I was introduced to it by a very good friend when T was approximately a year old, and at first I was uncomfortable, uneasy and ever so slightly horrified; but at the same time amazed and impressed. I am not an expert on toddler groups, and therefore, not knowing what to expect tried to have a completely open mind.
SF is primarily run by a wonderfully welcoming, loud, cheery, church going, mature ex-school teacher, Lynn. She is assisted by a number of other ladies who are all just as cheery and lovely. And they work their fingers to the bone for nothing. There is no profit for them, they simply enjoy what they do. And nowadays I am very protective and extremely comfortable in their presence. I would also point out that SF has a lady who works for Surestart in every week, who shows immense patience and who thankfully knows all the nursery rhyme songs.
SF costs £1.50 per family, although personally I would pay double that, and on occasions ‘forget’ to collect my change.
For your money you get lunch – a jacket potato or toast with cheese and beans, for each person, kids as well. Tea and coffee, squash, fruit (banana chunks, raisins, apples slices and cucumber) and my favourite part, cakes (all of which are baked by Lynn), there are at least four large plates housing a variety of cakes – vanilla butterfly cupcakes, chocolate butterfly cupcakes, scones, cheese scones, flapjack, lemon cake, fruit loaf, cookies….I could go on.
After lunch, AKA feeding time, is over the children can go and play with the vast array of toys, games and puzzles, while us Mums can stay seated finishing our cuppa and having a catch up, relaxed in the knowledge that we can watch our offspring/s and their activity.
There is very little opportunity for the children to get bored. SF do a wonderful job and in my opinion actually rival T’s preschool in terms of activities: a table for the children to play with the handmade play-dough and the relevant toys; an arts and crafts table where the children can make and paint something relevant to that weeks topic – this week was sponge painting. Previous weeks have included Easter Bunnies, flower making and incy wincey spider. There is a play house, kitchen, BBQ, plastic food, a play ironing board complete with iron – a little girls dream, but in actual fact the boys play with this more.
There is also a number of boxes which contain every type of toys/game/plaything imaginable. There are toys relevant to age, a book corner, a baby area, sticklebricks, train sets, a dolls house, blocks, dolls prams, dolls and clothes, toddler toys, musical toys, a baby walker, a toy zoo with all the animals. Phew I’m exhausted listing them and that is not all of them. All the toys are clean and in working order.
After a substantial and satisfying playtime, tidy up time commences; most of the children – those able to – help out by carrying toys back into the storage cupboard and everyone gets ready for songtime.
I was unaware of this ritual until I began attending toddler groups, but I was reliably informed that this happens, generally, at most of them. It is used as an indication that playtime is coming to an end.
So each child pulls up one of the plastic chairs and we, children and mums, sit around in a circle. The songs we sing vary, but we have our favourites: twinkle twinkle little star, wind the bobbin up, the wheels on the bus. All the children are looked upon to join in. Sometimes Lynn will read a book and occasionally we’ll do dancing songs with ribbons and musical instruments. It really is irrelevant what we do during songtime, it is just simply a lovely round up to the group.
I began taking my children to toddler group for my own sanity. It gets me out of the house and breaks the week up. But actually what I get out of it is much more. It has brought me into the parent/mum ‘community’ much more than standing at the school gates ever did. I simply love watching my children interacting with others of all age ranges. I can talk to Lynn. She has been a shoulder to cry on, someone to listen to me and vent to. She understands and appreciates. She shares stories of her Granddaughter, she was a wonderful listener when my Granddad passed away.
I am very grateful to Lynn and the ladies at SF for what they do each week. They never ask for anything and put up with a lot of noise, mess, work. But without them my week would be that much emptier.