The serious business of having fun

Posted by / Wednesday 11 November 2015 / Children's centres Early intervention
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There are little piggies everywhere. I see tiny stuffed ones, big plastic ones and twenty excited human ones, two feet tall and bursting with energy. 

Welcome to 'Three Little Pigs Day' at Totnes Children’s Centre and, after a morning full of playing, singing and stories, we’re about tuck into our 'wolf stew'.

I’m usually based in our London office, but it was time for me to find out exactly what goes on in one of our children’s centres. It took just a few minutes to realise that a better question is "what doesn’t?"

Experts in play, family support and child development run this centre. Alongside the toys and musical instruments are displays for parents, helping them to understand more about how their child is developing.

Staff here work hard to develop good relationships with the families who use the centre. They help out when things get tough, they reassure anxious parents and they help families build stronger connections with each other.

"It takes a magical blend of passion and patience to strike the right tone – and my colleagues here have it in spades."


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It’s also apparent that this is a community effort. Our 'wolf stew' was prepared by volunteers (this husband and wife has been cooking up delicious lunches here for years). It was made using vegetables bought at a knock down cost from a nearby organic farm because they don’t look perfect enough for the shops.

Parents are supported by peers who have used the centre and taken extra training – it’s sometimes easier to share your worries with someone who’s had children recently. Older people volunteer too – those whose children are grown up become supportive 'grandparent' figures.

After a few hours, the play room looks like a soup explosion in a toy factory. But you can glimpse the smiles through the face paint and crumbs.

It may look like a party, and it’s supposed to feel like it, but it takes a huge amount of expertise and planning. 

The fun will always be an opportunity for children and parents to spend quality time together. Making piggy ears will help children develop all kinds of skills – from hand-eye co-ordination to communication – and storytime is a chance to collaborate by bouncing little piggies in a blanket.

As we start to pack up, mums are chatting outside, having a look through the clothing exchange and generally checking in with each other. No time to stop, though, the crèche and family support group is due to start in half an hour.

So what happens at a children’s centre? Huffing and puffing. Grinning and growing. Learning and laughing. Storytelling and supporting. Great fun is a serious business.

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