We moved not so long ago, only a couple of miles away from where we used to live but it still meant a new circuit of parent and toddler groups. Now I am a pretty easy going person and feel that there really isn’t a difficult formula for running a successful toddler group. Put a load of toys in a large room, take a few quid off incoming parents, leave coffee and biscuits readily available and unleash the kids. Two hours later pack up and go home.
Yet, some places seem to think they need to improve on this formula. Create things to comply with a Government paper on what children need to be doing in order to develop. I always thought that was simple; give them love, pay them attention. But apparently not. So, playgroups in my new local area are doing THINGS in their large spaces of toys. This has led to some disputes over the past few months, with me. Mostly centered around singing.
The first disagreement happened in January at a church at the end of my street. They had some silly idea about structuring children’s play time and so when I rocked up an hour into the playgroup session, sat down to help my son smash playdoh into the table I found I was confronted by a volunteer requesting that I pack up the jigsaws. Hang on a second, I just paid £3.50 to come here to tidy up? I could do that at home for free and it is what I came here to avoid. Feeling miffed but shutting up I packed away mess that other children had made only to be told I was putting the jigsaws in the boxes wrong and why hadn’t I found the missing box for one? I politely said I had only been there 10 minutes and was unaware I had sat next to a missing jigsaw box. The helpful volunteer then gave me pointers on how to put away playdoh so that it didn’t dry up. Exasperated, I walked off.
Did I mention coffee was rationed to one cup per adult, one biscuit per adult and do not dare try drink this potential danger outside the allotted time? Somewhere along the line this group had forgotten that parents are adults who are aware of the basics of what to do with hot drinks near small children and I don’t think it was balance them on their heads to speed up their walking ability.
Next came the singing session. My son doesn’t always want to take part in singing, much preferring to use the time to have free reign on the empty toys instead. This being jumping up and down on a wooden slide while shouting with glee. I was asked to stop him, he was disturbing the others who then wanted to join the jumping and not the singing. I had a word with my son, he ignored me as children tend to do when they are having fun. The woman then came to tell me that the slide was very old and might fall apart at any moment. I questioned why they had such a dangerous contraption in a place with children freely using it and should OFSTED find out, they might have a few ideas about updating equipment. I had a lecture about how it was 21 years old and had served her children well. I left.
Next came last week at a regular group we attend on a Tuesday. It is basic but nice, they don’t offer tea or coffee but don’t insult your intelligence or child-rearing skills. At the end there is a lovely singing and story time from the library. That is until you try placate you toddler with a rice cracker to stop him slamming a chair into the door repeatedly every week during the songs. I was asked not to feed him during song time and if that had been the end of it then I wouldn’t be writing this. The song leader then went on to tell me that I was damaging my son’s speech and language development by allowing him snacks in song time and also posing a risk due to the jumping about. How can he sing back if he is eating, she asked. Oh to not shout out that my son had wonderful speech for his age and he could either eat or slam chairs into doors, her choice.
I wondered if perhaps the problem was with me. I am sometimes quite shy and not comfortable talking to people all the time. I also don’t tend to do the nursery rhyme thing too often. I took my son to all manner of crazy singing groups when he was younger but he just gets bored these days. Besides, toddler songs have always seemed like some sort of an indoctrination into a cult. They either get stuck in your head half the day and I find myself humming about zoom-ing to the moon, someone decides to sing the hideous version of that hideous wheels on the bus song (Yes, women spend their days nattering like fish-wives on the bus and this offends the gentle ears of the men around them), or have a very peculiar effect on children. If you have ever seen your child lie-down perfectly still at the first note of Sleeping Bunnies you will know what I mean. Although I have been tempted to just leave him there for an extra 10 minutes waiting to ‘wake up bunny’, while I take a power nap myself.
Someone even bought us a toddler music CD for the car to ‘keep him entertained’. That went into the re-gifting pile before even taking the wrapper off. My son has rocked out to Carcass at full pelt in the car, requested I play Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy again and when he was a baby only Metallica’s Ride The Lightening was good enough for play time. We sing and dance together to music that we both like. Believe me he can hold his opinion in high regard and, to my disappointment, about his dislike for Minor Threat.
It made me wonder just whether those awful, crappy songs are actually doing any good for our children? My son did not learn to talk from singing them but from sitting in the sling talking to me; he did not learn to count from hearing about ducks and fish, we walked down the stairs counting each one and now he counts to 15; he did not learn animal noises from singing about a farm but actually going out to one instead and seeing animals. He is learning a love of music from exposure to instruments every day, from being allowed to pick whatever he likes from our record collection and that will be our day’s soundtrack, from going to gigs and seeing what real music is when played live.
I love it that he can wind the bobbin up, pop bubbles from the turtle in the bath and row row his way down the river, stream, shore and bay. But I do not take it for anything more than what it is; my son showing an interest in music of his choosing when he wants to do so.