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Playtime conference 2016 report

What an incredible day we had at the Playtime conference!

This was the second year I attended the conference and my expectations were high. I was not disappointed! Despite this event being in its 14th year, it remains fresh and inspiring!

The venue was splendid, the welcome was outstanding, and it was lovely to see delegates coming in with smiles on their faces, excited about the day ahead, and mingling in the foyer munching on fresh pastries and drinking good coffee. People had come from all over the country, a group from Glasgow making a weekend of it!

It was obvious that for many toddler group leaders, Playtime is a highlight of their year, an opportunity to get new ideas, meet new people and catch up with old acquaintances (I met an old university friend I hadn’t seen for 20 years!).  Many people come back repeatedly, knowing this is a valuable investment of their time and resources, and an opportunity to envision and perhaps reflect on how things are going.  I certainly came away with lots of thoughts for our toddler group!

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Tapestry’ and Rob Parsons encouraged us to understand the incredible role that toddler groups play in the tapestry of the lives of the children, parents, and carers who attend. And even though we might not see the impact that we are making here and now, in the greater scheme of things we are changing lives and sowing seeds into their future in marvellous ways!  Rob also shared some lovely top tips for parents from his and Katharine Hills’ book The Really Really Busy Person’s Book on Parenting. One that struck me was the importance of pacing ourselves – we’re in the job for the long haul, so we need to keep some energy for the next stage. Another key thing to remember is the power of love, laughter and traditions in the lives of our children.

Richard Harvey gave an excellent talk, describing toddler groups as “The church’s best kept mission secret!” Indeed, what other group in our churches is as successful in engaging with families and communities? On average, 70% of toddler group attenders don’t attend church, and there is often a waiting list for those who want to come! He encouraged us to recognise how valuable the contact and impact we have on parents and children is, and how important it is to keep communicating the message of God’s love with them.

There were so many great speakers and workshops to choose from – it certainly was rich pickings! This year workshops were arranged in streams – engaging family; engaging team, engaging community and engaging imagination – with three sessions in each. We had fun in the creative craft competition, and were given tips on making story-time fun, using the Bible with children, passing on life lessons and using singing and worship in groups.  We were also given ideas about reaching dads, engaging with parents after toddler group, sharing our faith, and supporting parents who may be lonely or isolated.  Some toddler groups brought enough people to have someone in every workshop so as not to miss a thing – maybe an idea for your group next year!

At the end of the day it was evident that people had thoroughly enjoyed the conference and were enthused and envisioned. I certainly came away knowing that we are making a difference – every conversation, every gesture or expression of love and attention, every word of encouragement is working its way into the great tapestry of people’s lives. Toddler groups are so important and what we do is significant, so let’s do all we can to make the most of this amazing opportunity. I’m certainly going to make sure I book early for next year’s event before tickets sell out again!

If you missed the conference or would like to relive a few of the sessions, check out the link below and share it with your team or friends.