Right across the country, every day of the week, local churches are opening their doors to welcome in people from different backgrounds, races and religious beliefs. And in they come: around 2 million of them1, from the tiniest newborn babies to the most confident and boisterous toddlers.
Once inside they find a warm, dry, safe place to play. What else they find is then totally dependent on the facilities available and the leaders who run the group. They may find...
- A large room packed with colourful toys and a bustling crowd of toddlers completely absorbed in play, with chatting adults producing a background hubbub almost sufficient to drown out the cries of
A small, quiet group of breastfeeding mothers and newborns who gather over cups of coffee to talk about the challenges of parenting and support each other in the ups and downs of life.
A highly structured session, including a song time, story time and craft.
An hour or more in which to explore the various toys and activities as they choose.
No matter how the group operates, the toddlers enter a stimulating, educational environment with the opportunity to develop new skills and socialise with other children outside of their home.
So, who else benefits?
These little ones, mostly in the first 1,277 days of their lives, are always accompanied by an adult carer, whether this is a parent (male or female), a grandparent or other relative, a friend, a childminder or a nanny.
These adults bring them to the toddler group for a variety of reasons; perhaps they appreciate the numerous ways that their children benefit from being in the group, perhaps they enjoy socialising with the other adults, or perhaps they need a bit of support. That support might take the form of a friendly word of advice from the toddler group leader (most of whom are volunteers and many of whom have children of their own) or a simple word of encouragement from a fellow carer. For many who are engaged in the tough job of caring for small children, their toddler group is a real lifeline and the relationships that start there may last a lifetime.
The lifeline often extends beyond the toddler group session too, with many churches arranging outings, parenting classes, mumís socials and bible studies in addition to their weekly play sessions.
The churches that open their doors in this way are truly demonstrating Godís love at the heart of their communities in a vital and practical manner. They are investing in children and their families at a critical stage of their lives. And that is Good News for ALL whether you like your Society Big or Small!
1 - 52% of children under four years old access some form of parent & toddler group via Churches. Source: Childrenís Workforce Development Council, ĎMore than Sundaysí report, 2009 available from the Family Matters Institute.