In the first of a two-part look at what’s on offer at Clayton’s Sure Start Children’s Centre Len Grant heads for a popular play session with a difference.
Cornflakes spill out of a paddling pool; red paint is splattered with rollers and toothbrushes; pasta is shovelled out of a plastic tub with wooden spoons. It sounds like a parent’s worst nightmare but this is the weekly Wonderful World of Play at Clayton Sure Start Children’s Centre and the kids love it.
“For the children it’s all about getting messy, interacting with others and learning through play,” explains Amanda Shore, the Children’s Centre Teacher. “For the adults it’s an opportunity to meet other parents and get informal advice from half a dozen health-related agencies and for us it’s a chance to demonstrate how children can learn from play without expensive toys.”
Kayleigh Smith and her 19 month-old son, Cole have travelled this morning from Ancoats. “Yes, we have to get a bus to be here but it’s worth the effort because he enjoys being with other children and getting messy. He doesn’t get much chance of that at home.”
“I’ve put our pans in a low cupboard in our kitchen,” says Carla Stevens, mother of three year-old Roman. “It means he can just take them out whenever he wants and it keeps him busy whilst I’m cooking.”
Carla has been coming to the Wonderful World of Play since Roman was a baby and isn’t about to stop any time soon. With her five day-old daughter in her arms she has many more sessions ahead of her. “I was here last week, heavily pregnant,” she explains, “gave birth over the weekend and am back again now. I haven’t missed a week!”
Whilst their children are covering themselves in paint and foam the parents and carers get informal advice from different agencies who join in each week.
“We have health workers, speech and language therapists, dental nurses – a string of specialists who might not be consulted formally but who become part of the play session and ‘filter’ information in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere,” says Amanda.
When the dental nurse pays a visit there are toothbrushes in the paint pots and minty-smelly ‘goo’ to play with. When the fire service comes, not only do the children get to try on the helmets but the parents learn they can get their fire alarms tested for free.
“For an a hour and a half the adults get to ask questions of the specialist but also chat to each other,” continues Amanda. “This social interaction is crucial for many new mums.”
“Before having Liam I’d always worked full-time,” says Clayton resident, Claire Tomkison, “so it was a real shock to finish work and start maternity leave. I felt quite lonely and isolated and the weeks seem to drag on forever. I came down here to see what was going on and just started getting to know people. Once Liam arrived I signed up for every course going. I don’t know what I’d have done without the Children’s Centre.
“Some baby and toddler sessions are quite structured but here you get to talk to other mums and I always find it interesting to see what Liam gets up to when he’s playing with the friends he’s made. It just shows that you don’t need expensive toys… our children will learn from anything.”
The Wonderful World of Play is on Fridays between 10 and 11.30. Phone 219 6177 or call in for more information.
Clayton Sure Start Children’s Centre, North Road, Clayton.
Revisit East in the next week for more about the Children’s Centre.