Since September 2010, we have been attending Little Fishes Toddler Group (http://www.hmclittlefishes.org/). This is held on Fridays at Horfield Methodist Church, Churchways Avenue from 10.00 - 11.30. It is a little way from where we live but definitely worth it (as you can see from the title!).
Little Fishes operates from two rooms. One is where the main playgroup is held, with craft activities, dressing-up clothes, toys and where all gather at the end of each session for a story and singing. There is one corner in this room which is solely for babies, with a soft quilt on the floor, toys specifically for babies, a bumbo and a play ring.
The second room has cars that toddlers can ride, rockers, a slide, small ball pool, play house, etc. This room is great for older toddlers who are more active. The rooms are ideal for babies to crawl around in and for toddlers to play as they are modern and in good order.
My daughter playing at Little Fishes
Because Litttle Fishes is held in the Methodist Church and run by members of the church, there is a Christian theme, once a month, e.g. the Nativity. However, parents who take their children to Little Fishes do not need to be religious themselves.
Little Fishes is £1.50 per child and free for siblings under one. For siblings over one, it is a further 50p. Tea and coffee plus biscuits are provided for the adults. Beakers of juice/water plus bowls of fruit and biscuits are provided for children.
There are lots of good playgroups that we have been to. However, little Fishes has qualities that make it an especially warm and friendly group. First of all, the volunteers' are genuinely kind, pleasant people. They make an effort to get to know the children and the mums/dads/carers. When we arrive there on a Friday morning, one of the leaders always comes over and asks me if I want my regular coffee with one sugar! They make an effort to sit down with you and chat. This is appreciated as I'm sure it is stressful at times for volunteers with so many children and babies and trying to keep things organised and working well.
Another thing that sets little Fishes apart, is the volunteers' helpfulness. With two children, born twenty-two months apart and at completely different stages of development, I sometimes find it hard at such groups. It is difficult to give both children complete attention, especially with one running and the other crawling in different directions. However, volunteers are always willing to offer a hand, such as helping the three of us go up and down the stairs.
But the friendliness extends beyond the volunteers. Other mums are very friendly, too, we always greet each other and there is none of the cliquiness that can exist at some baby and toddler groups. I don't think cliquiness is necessarily born out of spite or unfriendliness. Rather, in some groups and situations, people may feel nervous or unsure and therefore stick to the people they know and feel 'safe' with.
I think cliques also form out of habit and, as people are creatures of habit, people often stick with others they are familiar with. This can be perceived as unfriendliness by others and the 'clique' may have no idea how they can appear to others.
Some people may not realise other parents in a baby or toddler group may be shy and self-conscious and get how hard it can be to approach a group of mums. I actually find it quite intimidating, especially when in a new group.
Again, Little Fishes volunteers come into play here to prevent this. When there is a new mum, staff go out of their way to make her feel welcome. They introduce her to others to start people talking. One of the leaders also started a Little fishes Group on Facebook whereby all mums on Facebook were invited to join. I think such actions help to make other mums feel welcomed.
Little Fishes seems to be almost a little community on its own now! Near Christmas, one mum invited the other mums to go out for a meal at Zest on Gloucester road. Many went to the meal, including myself. It was nice to get to know some of the other mums better. I must say, what a difference it makes to quality of conversation when you don't have children with you. You can actually have a proper conversation and finish it, too!
Much thought, planning and organisation goes into each Little Fishes session. Each session has a theme so activities are set up to accord with that theme. For example, when the theme was 'hands', on that day the craft activity was hand printing and songs were about hands. Special visits have also been arranged, such as 'Edupets' bringing their vast array of creatures: stick insects, snakes, rabbits, snails, to name just a few!
My son when Edupets visited Little Fishes
There is a small lending library of books for babies, toddlers and parents. Parents can borrow these books, too. This is opened about midway through each session for all to browse the books. At the end of each session we all sit down for a story and songs. My children's favourite song of all is the 'Wiggle' song!
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