Turbulent times for toddler groups

Published on: 16 December 2021

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, churches and leaders have had to adjust to the everchanging guidance on meeting together and opening buildings.

Church-led parent and toddler groups – a key outreach of many churches – have, in particular, been keen to consider whether they can reopen to offer vital contact for under 5s and their parents and carers. Guidance permitting, where there had been no right or wrong answer to groups reopening and certainly no one size fits all approach, for some settings the answer had been not to reopen; perhaps due to limitations of buildings and their facilities or concerns about volunteers and safely staffing groups.

Others, like Cathryn Baker who leads Sparklers in Stoke Holy Cross have reimagined their outreach for the present time, Cathryn shares, “Sparklers had to pause in March, but we have stayed in touch with families by email and social media, as well as offering zoom toddler sessions. Over the summer we met at the park, which was fantastic, but with the second lockdown starting we decided to make up monthly activity bags for our families to do at home. They include craft kits, Bible stories, and gifts and encouragement for our parents and carers. We’d love to get them to more people, and we’re hoping to reconnect with families through face to face activities when we can too.”

There are also groups that have adapted their face-to-face provision to meet guidelines. The Revd Alison Ball, Assistant Priest, Chet Valley Churches says, “Our parent and toddler group, Noah’s Ark, was just not practicable with the Covid-19 guidelines, so when the weather got colder and it was no longer viable to meet families outside, I started ‘Bullrush Babies’ as an offshoot, supporting up to six new first time mums and their (immobile) babies. They bring their own rug/ towel to sit on; we all mask, hand sanitise, social distance and I read a story. They are delighted to have something to come to, to give them some kind of routine.”

Still, sometimes the best laid plans are thwarted by guidance changes, as Constance Tyce who runs Noah’s Ark Parent and Toddler Group at St Peter’s Church in Sheringham found out; “Once the children returned to school in September, we were hearing that parents were desperate for somewhere to go with their young children and babies. After spending time looking at the government and Church of England guidance, we decided to contact all our families and find out whether they would be interested in coming back. We explained that the group would be very different with no more than six families being invited to a session.

“There was much preparation needed. We thought very carefully about the kind of activities we could offer to enable the children and babies an opportunity to explore interesting resources and how we would organise them to ensure the families could interact at a social distance. We applied for a Norfolk County Council grant to purchase additional cleaning equipment and resources and produced a very comprehensive risk assessment that was approved by our PCC. We were ready to go! Then the second lockdown was announced, but at least we have everything in place for when we are safe to start again.”

It’s important to stay in line with current guidance and legislation, but despite the frustrations we sometimes face, it’s good to know that preparations can still bring hope for the future and a time when we can be together again.

If you would like advice about the current guidance for the meeting of parent and toddler groups please contact the Children, Youth and Families team 

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