On Monday I had no childcare so I gladly took a day’s annual leave and looked forward to spending the day with my little lady. That was until I remembered what a whirling dervish she is. She has the attention span of a gnat and gets bored with an activity before she’s even finished getting the activity out of the box. My romantic ideas of us playing happily on the rug all day faded before we had even eaten our Weetabix. What on earth was I going to do that would keep her entertained? Enter our local Sure Start Centres!
What to do?
My mum usually takes her to a Sure Start group on Monday mornings so I decided to stick with the routine. The group offered painting, play dough, chalk drawings, reading books, dressing up, playing inside and playing outside with sand and fake snow. There really was something to keep even the whirliest of little whirlwinds entertained for couple of hours. The children got a healthy snack and we rounded off the sessions with a good old sing song (even if it was bloody Dingle Dangle Scarecrow which we have to sing on repeat in our house. I wish he would bloody dingle dangle off to be honest). We had so much fun that we ended up going to a Sure Start group that afternoon as well. Double bubble, double fun!
In the midst of the wonderful chaos it struck me just how important these groups are. Parents have forged friendships, the children are learning how to interact socially and may be making friends they will know their whole lives (I met my oldest friend at play group when we were two). The staff were amazing, they knew all the children by their first names and just generally let them be children and express themselves. There was no bothering about the mess, just insistence that they wash their hands before snack and lots of encouraging them to get involved with the different activities.
The heart of the community
It’s centres like this that are at the heart of our communities. They are safe, free and accessible and bring people together. The lonely first time mum who needs to get out of the house because otherwise she wouldn’t get any adult conversation that day. The Sure Start breast feeding support group was a real life line for me in the early days. I honestly don’t think I would have carried on if it wasn’t for the help from the feeding buddies and other mums, some of whom I’m still in contact with now. Sadly that group has been cancelled because of lack of funding which makes me feel for the mums missing out on that vital support. Then there’s the army of grandparents providing child care so parents can go back to work. And let’s not forget the tired parents with three kids under four who just need a bit of a break and a safe space for their children to run off some steam.
It’s criminal that the Government has reduced it’s spending on early years development and that many centres have closed or face closure. I know that many community/social departments are stretched but surely it is crucial to give children the best possible start to avoid problems later on in life? I think sometimes there is a bit of a stigma attached to using these free services but there needn’t be and I would urge everybody to show their support and use their Sure Start centres because if the funding is cut then it will be all but impossible to get them back.
I really enjoyed my day, as did Willow. We were both shattered by the end of it. Hats off to you guys doing this every week, I’ll be going back to work for a rest!
Do you use your local Sure Start Centres? Leave me a comment to let me know which activities you like or how you feel about the cut in funding or if your local centre has been affected.