Over the past year and a half Nathaniel & I have been to lots of different baby & toddler groups. We were lucky at the beginning having had a group of good NCT friends where we could all agree to meet at one group or the other so we didn’t have to be the one person who knew no-one, although there was a danger of becoming cliquey which hopefully we avoided. But it’s been interesting to see how successful or not different groups are.
The baby groups have to be the most successful in terms of bodies turning up, helped by the fact that new mums have to get out of the house, want lots of advice and want to meet new mum friends. They’re also generally off work, and it’s groups for older babies that seem to suffer.
Baby café for me was pretty good at one of the local children’s centres. It was meant to have a big focus on breastfeeding so that initially made me think we couldn’t go, but really anyone could go. There was lots of support there (although one worker was quite scary and in your face if you didn’t stand your ground), and even now a year later, I still see faces round town that I recognise as having met there. There was also a good under one’s group in a morning – this was better as it was a general drop in but we didn’t start going there until I was almost back at work as a morning didn’t work as well for us. That was quieter, I suppose because people were back at work, but it was great to see how the little ones developed, and to chat to any health visitors/mums there about any questions you had.
My local rural children’s centre was a much nicer location as it was purpose built with immaculate newer toys. They supplied biscuits & sometimes cake along with the tea/coffee, and if you were new, the workers would ask you your name and introduce you to people (unlike at the town centre children’s centre where your child seemed to be the focus and your name wasn’t really known unless you’d specifically been helped with an issue). Parking outside was also nice, rather than having to pay for parking. We went to an under one’s group there too and it was a bit sad that swimming then clashed with it so we had to stop going. It’s nice to still see the workers from there around sometimes to have a chat and tell them what we’ve been up to.
It’s a shame more small villages don’t have their own groups any more. Where I live the villages are quite small, so the nursery tends to use the village hall and there’s nowhere to hold them. A couple of mums who knew each other through their older children started a group once a month to meet other new mums and we went to that in one mum’s home a couple of times. It was great to meet who’re likely to be Nathaniel’s friends at school in a few years, although they tended to know each other through older children so was hard to keep track of who was who. But hopefully it’ll help with saying hi at the school gates in future.
Latterly we’ve not been to many groups as now I’m back at work there’s no time. But with a couple of recent days off we’ve been to a couple of different NCT baby & toddler groups. One seemed to be thriving. I went predominately to have a stall for my Gumigem & SKEANIE role as every fortnight they have a different person selling their services/wares. It runs even in school holidays and was for both babies and toddlers. Lots of great toys, an art/crafts area, snack time and singing time, all of which went down well. Plus all the mums seemed to be included in things.
Contrast that with a group I went to a few weeks ago and it was totally different. Similar type of community hall, similar types of toys, but it was empty. Well, 5 mums, 3 of whom are involved with NCT in that area. When I asked if it was a quiet week, I was told yes, the warmer weather did put people off coming, and they were going through a quieter period and they struggled to enourage people to come along.
I think there were quite a few problems. In my opinion having it so quiet probably put me off a little bit as you really want to know that you could get on with everyone there. I know one of the children there is reputed (amongst my friends anyway) as being a nightmare, so that would definitely put me off. What the group offers is definitely not shouted about – turned out snacktime was included (banana slices sat on a rug, no drinks for the kids), and that there was also singing time (no-one really led it so it was a bit rushed). There was a table for drawing, but no-one explained that to me when I came in for the first time, no-one told me about what happened with drinks (was it make your own or be offered), where to pay etc. It was just assumed I’d know. And there was no one person who took ownership for the session. It doesn’t take a lot to make people feel welcome, but is definitely a way to put people off.
I also think the successful group does a lot more in terms of building up information for the mums who attend through Facebook. They have a page which tells people which company is attending that week, if they want any feedback on changing things around or if there’s a theme week coming up. It seems like the mums are part of something.
I think my local NCT are missing someone to really own social media for them. They have a Facebook page (which doesn’t seem to tell you ahead of time what’s going on) and doesn’t seem very interactive, and Twitter although I’ve not seen a tweet from them in a long time. Maybe if they got that going a bit more, they’d be able to ask people for their opinions and get changing some of the things that aren’t working so well.