Why nature play at our children’s centre is my new favourite thing

The mum guilt has been piling on recently. Work has been getting steadily busier and last week I felt like I really had to juggle my roles to keep everyone happy. At fourteen months, Maddie is fairly oblivious to this and how it can feel sometimes, just as she’s oblivious to what I’m actually doing when I’m holding my phone out in front of me. She doesn’t know I’m reading emails, answering people’s questions and trying to keep up with clients’ live chats. She just thinks I’m ignoring her, so by Friday I wanted to spend some quality time focussed on her.

Our local children’s centre runs a nature play session on Fridays, and has just increased the number of sessions each month for the summer season. We hadn’t been to this session before, but have been big fans of the children’s centre since Maddie was born. They provide free health worker appointments and a weigh-in clinic for babies to monitor their growth and are generally there for any questions you have, even if the list is in double figures in the early weeks. There’s a baby sensory room, with blacked out windows to make the most of the bubble lamps, fibre optic bean bags, mirrors and sensory toys, which was amazing when Maddie was younger. I used to go every Monday, it stimulated her mind so much she always slept brilliantly afterwards! As she’s got older we’ve been to a few of the centre’s other sessions too, but many clashed with my work days lately so we’d been away for a while and hadn’t had the chance to go to nature play before. From now on though, nature play has a firm booking in my calendar.

The centre has a forest school accredited practitioner, and runs the session with a team of childcare professionals. I can’t believe in all of our visits to the centre I’d never noticed the garden before. It’s incredibly big, and the staff have done so much with it, despite insisting that it’s a group effort with the children (nice try guys, I’m not sure a bunch of one year olds were that much help erecting a mud kitchen). There is everything an inquisitive toddler (and mum) could ever want in this garden. The pathways vary in height; they twist around bushes and trees, revealing fairy gardens, butterfly meadows, where the flowers are grown especially to encourage the species to visit. The bug hotel boasts more storeys than Hull’s Travellodge and the outdoor story time area has a beautifully decorated mural, tree stumps make seats for tiny bums, and the fire pit allows marshmallow toasting sessions for older ones.

It had been heavily pouring down the night before and everything was soaked, and yet not one person mentioned this negatively. I absolutely loved how strong the mentality of getting a bit wet and grubby was. I’m a big advocate of outdoor play, getting dirty, playing in the mud, finding worms and all that goes with it, so it was lovely to find a group of likeminded people and their children here too.

Since Maddie was born, the staff at the children’s centre have treated her like royalty. And not because she stands out as Best Toddler Ever (though, obviously this is true in my eyes), but because they do this for every bloody kid there. They get excited to see every child who visits, they remember names, milestones and what we’ve been up to, and they’re fantastic at their jobs. And this is all FREE. I can’t stress enough how incredible this is. We’ve been to so many different playgroups and baby classes in the last year, sometimes forking out more than a fiver for an hour’s play, and nothing has been as unique, friendly, open and welcoming as the sessions at the children’s centre.

I’m not a political person, but there’s an elephant in the room here. Children’s centres used to exist all over the country, and today there are only handfuls left, and they rely on government funding to offer these incredible starts to children’s lives. I’m not here to tell anyone how to vote, but simply to consider what is important to you and to the people important to you. What do you take for granted in life, and what would you hate to lose access to? Personally, having a young child puts access to healthcare and then education at the top of my list, and I’ll be voting for the party I think has those interests at heart. Please consider what’s important to you, do a little bit of research and go out and vote for your future next month, and if you haven’t already, go and visit your children’s centre!




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