Advantages Offers a wide range of friendly and fun services
Disadvantages Not all towns will have a center
Buckinghamshire Children’s CentersAs a mum of a nearly two year old, very active, daughter, I am always on the lookout for new and exciting things for her to do and what with the colder weather setting in, there is a limit to where I can take her outside especially as she has ‘funny blood’ I call it and gets very cold and blue very easily. I take her to many toddlers though not long ago just down the road from where I live, a new Children’s center opened attached to the local school and me and a friend who has a young three year old boy decided to try it out.
Sure Start began in 1998 and is a government initiative with the main aim of helping young children have the best start in life through childcare improvements, early education, health and family support. It originally started to help families from pregnancy to the age of four years old, though recently they have extended this until the age of fourteen (or sixteen for children with disabilities).
One of the aspects of Sure Start is local Children’s Centers which they claim by the year 2010 there will be a massive 3500 centers around the country which is great. The children’s centers themselves are aimed at children under five years of age, so basically pre-school children and offer not just fun and games for the child but also support and information for parents and carers. As far as I can tell from visiting three centers, all centers run and offer the same things with some slight timetable differences and obviously venue differences. All the centers I have been to are in Buckinghamshire though from what it seems, other ones around the country will run nearly the same.
For the process of this review I will concentrate upon the main childrens center I go to, bringing in aspects of the others I have visited. Unfortunately I am unable to review every one around the country or even county though hopefully this will give you a good idea of what these centers are like.On walking into the children’s center you are immediately hit with how safe and secure the center is with a buzz in door and staff member in the reception office looking onto the outside. Signing in and out is also mandatory in case of fire. Doors are also shut in a child proof way to stop the children wandering from one room to another if the parent takes their eyes off of them for a second (with my daughter that’s all it takes!).
On our first visit we were shown around the center. It is not overly big though large enough for plenty of fun to be had. There are two main rooms in which play occurs with other information rooms and rooms where parents can sit and have a chat with staff members. On this immediate visit we were also asked if we would like to leave our details in order for them to keep us up to date with what was going on so they are extremely organized. Just inside the main doors are lots of information draws all clearly marked where you are able to take what you want covering such things as preschools, health, toddler groups, support groups etc.One important factor I always feel is the toilets, especially if you are potty training your child! At my local children’s center there are two toilets, one main one with two cubicles (I am probably going into too much detail there!) and another for disabled and baby changing. The only real negative comment I have here is that there are no children’s sized toilets or children’s toilet seats or potties which being a children’s center for under fives that’s something I would have expected. Also there is no step or stool for the children to reach the sink which makes it difficult for children to wash their hands after going to the toilet or after any messy play so unfortunately I have to say that this is a negative thing about the center, though as you will see, it is the only negative aspect I have found.
The whole center itself is very warm and friendly and has a cosy feel to it unlike many toddler group venues. Everywhere is brightly coloured with soft carpets with beautiful children’s paintings on the walls as well as some professional looking pictures painted by adults. It is very welcoming atmosphere both in outlook and staff and extremely relaxed – you are able to make yourself as many coffee’s and you wish in the child safe (blocked off) kitchen and there is fruit and water readily available for the children. My sister went to an early morning session for her young baby, taking her two year old and he was even offered toast! As I said, very relaxed!There are two main rooms in my very local center, one bigger and the other one slightly smaller. The main room has two large (and very comfortable) sofa’s which such an array of toys available for all ages. They are high quality toys and range from simple play toys to educational toys. On warm days, the doors are opened into the small outside play area where more toys are kept including a water and sand table and chalk which the children are encouraged to write on both the ground and the walls! Even I had fun drawing a pretty picture on the floor! This main room hosts most of the different activities offered at the center, which I will discuss below. The second room is just across the hallway and matching in both comfort and colour. This room has more quiet activites – a childrens (as well as adults) sofa, many books to read, cushions to sit on and other smaller toys, though not any less fantastic. We like to go in this room before going home to help the children wind down from the excitement and trust me – after spending a couple of hours here on the drop in and play sessions, my daughter falls straight asleep for a couple of hours.
The children’s centers offer a whole range of different activities and these vary from center to center, though in the main they offer the same sorts of activities. They are also introducing more and more all the time, especially trying to accommodate everyones needs and wants. There are questionnaires you can fill in to see if there is anything they don’t do that you would like to and if they possibly can, they will introduce this into their timetable. They also host many seasonal activities such as Christmas crafts. Below are some of the activities they offer to the community, though bare in mind that more activities come in every so often so this is subject to change. Always check the local centers timetable (which you can get regular changes posted or emailed to you).
Drop in baby clinic
This is actually hosted in our local town hall though is run by the same people. Here you are able to speak to a health visitor and get your baby weighed. In the main these have been quite relaxed and helpful places though obviously it depends upon the health visitors working in your area. Unfortunately I met with one unhelpful and abrupt health visitor once which stopped me going to this particular one. Luckily I was welcomed to my sisters drop in center soon after.
There are many adult courses run here including a first aid course which unlike many of the other activities you have to book and pay for. The first aid course was £10. I haven’t been to this yet though am considering topping up my first aid knowledge.
Special mornings spread into different times according to the childs age. These sessions are again very relaxed and a lot of fun for both child and adult – my daughter loves the Hartbeeps group we have attended.
Jump Start and Step into Preschool
These sessions focus on learning activities and preparing children for their preschool experience with structured times to play, eat, listen to stories, do crafts etc. I haven’t as of yet done this though am hoping to join the November group so I will try to remember to update you here.
A Saturday morning group for Dads only to bring the children. A great group for dads to meet other dads.
There are also many other activites as mentioned above though these at point of writing are the main big activities. Whether you are pregnant, have a baby, toddler or are a dad – there is something for everyone and the activities I have been to with my daughter, my niece and nephew and my friends son, are all brilliant and much better than most toddler groups.
I do not have any complaints about the staff I have met at the couple of centers I have been to. Not only are they polite and helpful to the adults, they are extremely child friendly and most remember the childrens names even after only going once to the center. Many staff members will sit and talk to you whilst playing with the children and someone is always there to offer help and support and a friendly face. When I first went on my own I was very nervous though the staff really put me at ease. They are all well informed and answer everyones questions in a real professional way. I have to admit, when my daughter goes to school I would love to join this team and work in the childrens center as I feel they are doing an amazing job and I am only full of praise for them.
Children’s centers are generally free with some exceptions such as the specialized courses or special activities such as Baby FC Academy which is a sporty activity though only costs £1 for eight weeks which is nothing at all really.There are many Children’s centers around the country though as I have written this on Buckinghamshire ones I will link you to the list of centers around the area. Also below is another link to the children’s centers website.
So here we are at the end of the review – I hope I have included everything you need to know, so what about my overall opinion?
I would fully recommend the childrens centers to everyone with children under the age of five years old. They are safe, relaxing and calm places full of fun and excitement for the children with so many different activities to stimulate their young minds and are great places for adults to meet like minded adults and also get information and support. The comfortable atmosphere is welcoming and the staff are fantastic. As you noticed the only small gripe I had was about the toilets though I am going to mention this next time as I have now re-thought about it so hopefully this may change in the very near future.I have gone to many groups such as toddler groups and this outweights a lot of them by far. The toys are modern, stimulating and varied as are the activities and ideas and the venues is pleasant and welcoming – what more could you ask for.
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