“This public feedback will also help to focus Her Royal Highness’ work through The Royal Foundation as she endeavours to provide children across the UK with the best foundations to lead healthy and fulfilling lives,” read the statement from Kensington Palace. The survey should also provide some interesting insights into our society’s views on the important factors that affect the health and happiness of young children.
The Church is well placed to provide the answers to some of the questions being asked in the survey. Toddler groups up and down the country provide a space where parents and carers can come together and meet others in the same situation as them. They are spaces where children are valued and cared for and the mental health of both child and parent or carer can be nurtured. Unfortunately, these groups often aren’t celebrated enough for the work they do; they are often called ‘the Church’s best kept secret’.
When the YCW team visited Birmingham in 2018 for our August special uncovered some great work happening with under-5s and their parents and carers. Warley Baptist Church is the home of Little Fish. Carrie is a member of the church and leads the Little Fish team, but started to come to church through attending the toddler group. It helped her with her mental health and also provided a space for her children to play and grow: “I suffer badly with anxiety and depression. It wasn’t until I came here that I got help for it,” she explains. “People think toddler groups are just for the kids to come and play. They’re not, they’re about the whole family…One girl came first with her baby and was absolutely terrified. She often tells us the group saved her, because she was stuck at home. Her nerves were really bad, she didn’t want to leave the house.”
In the heart of Birmingham, Rachel co-leads a toddler group. “When my own children were smaller, toddler groups were a lifeline. That’s why I originally set one up,” she says. “My passion was to be there for the parents, because I know how hard it is staying at home, People can see we’ve got something else; we’ve got God as part of our lives as well.”
Sarah helps to run three group with Riverside Church, often welcoming families who are vulnerable or in danger. She knows well the power of play in the development of children: “It’s a pleasure to see children grow in confidence as they learn to how to play with different toys.” Rachel, who attends her local group with her daughter, agrees citing the influence of the volunteers on her daughter: “Through singing nursery rhymes I can see how she has come on in her development.”
In all the encounters we had with playgroups in Birmingham, the same message came through: children grow and develop as they play and socialise; the role of volunteers is key in this growth and development; and the groups are havens for parents and carers to feel valued and supported.
Our toddler groups are places where God’s love is action and the health and well-being of children and adults alike is top of the agenda.
Alex Taylor is resources editor for YCW magazine.
The Duchess of Camrbidge was photographed by PA meeting babies at a sensory class during the Royal tour of the UK to raise awareness for her Early Years Initiative.