I first started taking James to toddler groups around the time he turned one. To start with I found it quite difficult. He was just transitioning to one nap a day and about an hour into the group he would become so over tired that he would just cry and want to be held. I often used to leave early as he couldn’t cope with the duration of the group. However, I persevered and carried on going because I could see that it would be beneficial for him. Eventually he got used to having one nap a day and started enjoying these groups so much more.
Initially the thought of going to a toddler group felt quite daunting. I aways went with a friend to ensure there would be someone there I knew. It can feel quite intimidating walking into a room full of mums, dads, grandparents, carers, childminders etc. However, there was often people there I already knew and now I have more confidence, I’m not too bothered if there isn’t. There are usually some friendly, nervous faces hoping you will talk to them, between chasing after your child.
I knew these groups would be good for James to go to, but in the back of my mind I always felt that we were walking into a room where you could almost feel the germs bouncing from child to child. I have often thought I would really like to give the toys a good wash. James may have had a cold for most of the winter but he has also enjoyed himself at these groups. So now I try to tell myself it’s good for him, and yes I am a clean freak.
I think toddler groups can vary greatly. I attended a few before deciding on two that I liked the best. We go to the Reddings Baby and Toddler group in Cheltenham which has two rooms of toys and a large outdoor area with even more toys. The second one we go to is Saints Philip and James Toddler group that is all in one room. Both of these are extremely well run by friendly, energetic, enthusiastic and dedicated staff, that really make the groups. The church group James took to fairly quickly. He knows he can find me easily and has become very confident there. He is so confident that when it comes to singing at the end he sees the inside of the circle as his personal stage, where he runs around with a big grin on his face. This is whilst the other children sit nicely on their carers laps. The one in different rooms is a busy group and it could be very easy for James to panic and not be able to see me. He used to always hold my hand wherever he went there. It is only in the last month or so that he has gained his confidence to play independently inside and let go of my hand outside. It is really lovely to see him running around enjoying himself outside, or absorbed in playing with cars or trains.
I love toddler groups because they are a great way to keep James entertained. He gets to play with toys that are different to the ones at home. He has to learn to share toys with other children and how to behave in an acceptable way. His favourite game is to run around whilst he thinks other children are chasing him. He has really developed over the time we have been going to these groups. He began by being very clingy and never wanting to leave my side, to someone who is confident to play independently.
I can’t deny that in the beginning there were weeks where I didn’t know if I could face going to these groups where I would have to deal with an emotional toddler. It felt like my toddler was always the one that was unhappy and crying. He is still a very emotional child, but he knows what he likes, which makes it easier to direct him to things that he enjoys. He’s never one to be found at any craft or play doh tables. It’s just not for him at the moment. I have also never managed to get my fussy eater to eat the snacks at these groups. He just has no interest. He does sometimes quite happily collect biscuits for the seesaw though.
Not only are these groups good for James, I think they are good for me too. They give me a whole morning of cheap entertainment for James, and time where I can talk to my friends, even if it is for only a few minutes at a time. I have met friends that I haven’t seen for years, as well as making new friends. With the summer holidays coming up, we will certainly be lost without these groups and it will take a lot more effort to find things to do. Do toddlers really need a summer break?