Why we love our Children’s Centre

I don’t know if you have a Children’s or Sure Start centre near you. They’re a government funded early years support hub and we love ours. The Tennyson Centre in Haslemere is an amazing resource. We first found them when Oscar was about 5 months old. They were running a ‘new mother and baby’ group called Welcome to the World. It was billed as an important first social experience for babies, with singing and stories and sensory experiences. And it was. But really it was about encouraging new mothers out of the house. We/I loved it. While many of my new NCT friends went along for one or two sessions, Oscar and I went to all of them. I needed so badly to get out of the house at the time that it quickly became part of our new ‘routine’. We even carried on into the next course, ‘Journey of Discovery’ when Oscar turned 9 months. We went to the Centre every week for months, until he got old enough and I got confident enough to start going to other toddler groups. And I’m sure that’s exactly what they were there for.

I hadn’t been back since Oscar was a tot, until last September, when we were directed back by the health visitor to attend their Chatterbox course for delayed speakers. It was lovely going back and the staff were just as wonderful as they’d ever been, welcoming us back with open arms. It quickly became apparently that while Chatterbox was a fab space for some children, it wasn’t really working for Oscar. The outreach worker Kate suggested we come in late and stay a little longer and that worked much better. When the course came to an end, Kate told us, they were starting a stay and play session for children who had additional needs. Because we were going through the investigations into Oscar’s possible autism diagnosis, we were asked if we’d like to come along. It was a difficult few months for me and Oscar, but the support we received at our weekly visits to our Children’s Centre was invaluable. It was the only agency I came into contact who asked how I was doing. It was worth walking the two miles to the centre just for that. The fact that Oscar adores it there is something of a bonus 😉

So with the arrival of summer I have to admit I was (am) nervous. He’s off preschool now until September. What do you do with an autistic 3 year old, when you don’t drive? The wonderful ladies at The Tennyson Centre have a jam packed summer programme, many of which I know will prove very popular. And busy. That being that case, and to ensure as many children can access the services as possible, they’re carrying on their additional needs stay and play sessions. I’m so happy. He loves it. I love it. That they’re running the sessions, would have been enough for me.

Last Thursday they started off their summer programme with a visit from the hands on farm company Millers Ark. They’ve had them visit previously and knew how hectic popular it could be. So this year arranged for the farm to stay on after the main morning session, and invited children with additional needs, or those who just may need a quieter session to attend. I had no idea how Oscar would react to the animals, but booked to go anyway.

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Looking at the guinea pigs

Goat relaxing in the sun

Goat relaxing in the sun

Its a pig! He's asleep.

A pig

"pig sleep, shhhh, zzzzzz"

“pig sleep, shhhh, zzzzzz”

He ran around the garden, looking at everything, and then went back inside to play with some toys, which I thought might be the case

Magnetic patterns

Magnetic patterns

Playing

Playing

What I didn’t expect was him to come back out and get right up close to the animals.

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We were allowed in with the animals. He’s trying to feed the guinea pigs

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Having an in depth conversation with Buster the sheep

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Hanging with the donkey’s

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Then he went and picked up the brush, saying ‘brush’

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And brushed the donkey, so gently

He amazed me! He coped brilliantly with the animals and was so lovely with the other children there. We were the last to leave and he still didn’t want to go when we did. Would he have had such a great time in the main session? I’m not convinced he would. I think he would have run and run around the space, then gravitated towards to quieter areas, such as indoors. I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have got as much out of it and we would have missed the experience of him initiating the grooming of the donkey.

We’d like to say a massive thank you to the team at The Tennyson Centre for arranging such a super experience. And if you’re in Haslemere and have, or know someone in the area with, a preschooler with additional needs I highly recommend Tuesday’s stay and play. You can find details of the centre on the website.

A Cornish Mum

1,2,3 it’s magic….

I know I often write about stuff I’m having a problem with but this week I thought I’d let you know something that’s really working for me at the moment (as always the caveat when it comes to children is AT THE MOMENT!!)

So as a quick update I had my Health Visitor visit, for his 2 Year Check. Hmmm. How can I say this? Well it wasn’t horrendous, but it wasn’t all that helpful either. First off she was late and I mean really late. An hour. By the time she arrived he was both annoyed that I wouldn’t let him in the garden (I didn’t think I’d be able to get him back in if I did) and knackered. Going well so far. She sat and listened to my concerns about his speech, with lots of yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah after everything I said, which I guess she felt indicated she was listening, but to me sounded the complete opposite. She did say she’d refer him for a hearing test to be on the safe side, and gave me some leaflets on speech development (the most useful of which told me to get more eye contact with him, which I have been trying to do). She said she couldn’t refer him to a speech therapist until he was 27 months (he’s currently 25 months) but would if he was still at this level by then. And that was about it. She didn’t weigh or measure him (I have to go to the surgery to get that done) and in fact didn’t interact with him at all. I mentioned the tantrums and she told me (no joke) to ‘just ignore the bad behaviour and praise the good’. Really? No shit Sherlock. Thanks for that nugget. And that was that, as she rushed to get to her next (late) appointment. And I worried about this? Fuck me! Sorry, but really?

Anyway the next day I decided to take a walk up to my local childrens centre. We used to visit regularly and participated in two courses there before Oscar turned one. I also met my wonderful friend Emma there. We haven’t been back since his courses finished. I don’t know, it just felt so much part of his babyhood I didn’t think to revisit it. But the HV left me their brochure and turns out they run a course to help develop speech! So rather than phone, I got Oscar in his buggy and walked the 1.5 miles to the centre (on the way he fell asleep, far too early, but it did mean when I arrived I could talk to the Support Workers in peace!) It was so nice to see them. They remembered both of us and the administrator remembered both of our names AND our surname when she booked him on to their Chatterbox course starting in September – that woman should go on Britain’s got Talent for her memory recall!! Course booking out of the way, they actually took the time to ask me how it was going. I mentioned the tantrums, and they didn’t dismiss me with stupid platitudes. It was nice. I asked about a book the HV mentioned as I wondered if they had it in their library of parenting books. They seemed surprised at the book I asked for as it’s not one they recommend (I wont name it here in case it’s your favourite toddler book – to each their own). They did suggest another one called 123 Magic. Kate told me how she’d used it’s principles to great effect with her son, counting down each time she needed him to do something. Sounded good.

As it happened I was unable to find the book in the library, so picked up Jo Frost’s Confident Toddler Care instead (flicked through, still sitting on the table unread). The only page I did see, listed what she believes are the touchstones for toddler care and included Communicating Clearly. That along with the stuff Kate mentioned got me thinking. Do I communicate well enough or clearly enough with Oscar. So I decided to give my own version of the 123 thing a try.

And do you know it only bloody works!

I get down to his level (if practical), tell him what we’re doing, if there are options I offer them to him, then I count him down. THEN I DO WHAT I SAID! I follow through.

“We’re going upstairs to have a bath now Oscar. You can either walk up the stairs or mama can carry you up. But whatever you decide we’re doing it in 1, 2, 3” (and I show him the 123 fingers)

I’m not asking him, I’m telling him and if at three he isn’t walking up the stairs, I tell him I’m carrying him. Within a week I’m finding I am getting to three less and less. And the tantrums? Well he might be a bit shouty, but he doesn’t wriggle and fight me the way he did. It’s amazing. His speech is no better, but his comprehension seems to be coming on and I think that’s down to my clearer communication. Yesterday he even came up to me, for the first time ever and ‘told’ me he needed a clean nappy. I was so proud.

I know some of you might be reading this and saying “well duh Lisa, of course that’s how you do it”. And if so I hate you all for not telling me sooner 😉 ! I thought about being sad that I wasn’t communicating clearly enough before, but what would that achieve? Instead I’m loving that taking an idea from here and a tip from there and squidging them together has produced something that works for us. For now.

Always, for now.

I’ll let you know how it goes!