My name is Anne Brindley and I lead the families’ work at Mutley Baptist Church in Plymouth. We’ve run a successful toddler group for 21 years, set up with the aim of showing Jesus to our community through our actions. It was held on two mornings a week and was structured to allow children an opportunity for messy play, a snack and then a time to hurtle round the hall while the grown-ups looked on with a cup of coffee.
Five years ago we took the opportunity to re-launch the group. It’s wonderful how it has flourished and grown and we give God all the thanks for that. I’ve put together a list of the things we felt it was important to concentrate on:
- Our first action was to change our name. It was a big step, but it helped everyone to understand that we were re-launching the group and moving on. We are now called Buzzy Bees – a veritable hive of activity!
- Since babies and toddlers have many different daytime sleep patterns, we thought we’d have sessions in the afternoons as well as the mornings so that we wouldn’t exclude anyone. We now open for two mornings and two afternoons each week to try and meet the needs of as many families as possible.
- We wanted to help dads feel more welcome and were aware that men can often feel very uncomfortable when they walk into a playgroup full of women and babies. (One dad told me he was sure he was being graded for appearance and technical merit. He said he wouldn’t have been surprised if the women suddenly produced cards with scores on!) To try to counteract this feeling, we invested in café style tables and chairs that we spread around the hall. Nobody watches the door now and the number of men who come has risen dramatically.
- We provide coffee…really good coffee! (You’d be amazed at what a difference the quality of your drinks can make to attendance!) We also offer hot chocolate, latte, cappuccino and mocha at the touch of a button.
- We offer healthy snacks (fruit, rice cakes etc.) throughout every session.
- Our play areas in the hall are loosely defined and the children are able to choose whatever they want to do – painting, puzzles, play dough, cars, climbing, running, reading, home corner, baby corner. You name it; we’ll have a go at it.
- Building relationships and being Jesus to the families is still the most important thing we do. Every Christmas and Easter we give each family a gift of a book. The books are all specifically Christian and one of the mums said, ‘I’d expect nothing less from a Christian group.’
- We also run a families’ group every Saturday which allows us to get to know older, school-age children.
- Christmas is hugely exciting for us, as we put on a ‘Nativity Journey’ that travels through the whole church. The staff team become shepherds, wise men, inn keepers, Joseph and Mary, and we have a real donkey. It’s a joy to see the children’s faces when they come face to face with the donkey. One child ran up to me last year and whispered in my ear, ‘Dey is angels in dis place.’ It was such an encouragement.
- We are committed to staying open during the holidays. It’s a big obligation, but if you want to make an impact on your local community and have the resources, do try it. Since most children’s/families’ groups shut when the schools do, it’s a great opportunity to offer a unique service.
My advice to anyone either already running or thinking of starting a toddler group is to ‘dream big’. Your ‘big’ may not be the same as someone else’s (in fact, sometimes, if you are just starting a group, for instance, your ‘big’ may look considerably smaller in comparison with someone else’s) but don’t be afraid to dream. God can do amazing things!
This information is supplied in good faith, but Care for the Family cannot accept responsibility for any advice or recommendations made by other organisations or resources.