19 October 2012 by thaliakr
Yeah, sorry. I know that cheap trick hasn’t fooled you: this is another kind of SPACE.
SPACE (Supporting Parents Alongside Children’s Education) is a structured playgroup programme for first-time parents and their babies (and other vulnerable families) run nationwide by the Playcentre movement.
Some of the team at the Specialist Maternal Mental Health Service in Wellington have been part of a research project that found SPACE was a significant place for building resilience in parents and kids, particularly in vulnerable families.
I’m glad I did. The people have been welcoming and kind, and the sessions are well-run and helpful.
It’s a structured playgroup that runs for 9-12 months for parents with babies of the same age – most start at 3-4 months old.
We begin sitting in a circle with our babies, and sing a welcoming song (more about that later). Then there’s a low-key group discussion on a particular topic – sometimes practical, like teething or sleep routines, and sometimes more about how we’re all doing.
As soon as the babies’ noise level warrants it, we get out the songbooks and sing loopy action songs with them. It’s a good refresher course for those of us who last sang ‘Heads, Shoulders Knees and Toes’ thirty years ago.
Then the leaders increase our repertoire of age-appropriate play activities or parenting skills. We might make sensory baskets for little babies to explore, or learn about introducing solids. They’re also great at organising simple craft activities, like foot imprints and photo book gifts, for us to make and take away.
In the final term, this turns into a full play experience for our now-mobile babies, focusing each week on a different kind of play – painting, water, gross motor skills, etc. The idea is that we are exposed to all these things and equipped to broaden our kids’ play experiences at home. It works.
After four months away travelling in the middle of the nine-month SPACE programme, I was pretty apprehensive about going back today. We were a bit late getting ready (you know how it is) and as we headed out the door at midday I realised I hadn’t had breakfast, let alone lunch, and I had a near-flump and wasn’t at all sure about going.
But I knew it would be a good idea, theoretically, and my husband was coming as well, so I breathed slowly, ate a muesli bar, and we got there.
Well done me, eh? And well done everyone, because it was a really good afternoon, and I felt good about being back. They’re all just so nice.
Anyway, it was so good I wanted to write about it, so here we are. Six great things about SPACE.
#1: The singing
This is the song we sing together to begin the sessions:
Hello Holly, kia ora Holly [the baby]
We are pleased to see you!
Hello Chris, kia ora Chris [the parent]
Pleased to see you too!
We go around the whole group, in remarkably good tune, and it’s lovely. There’s lots of waving and smiling and the babies look around in wonder. There should be more singing in the world, don’t you think?
#2: Community instead of competition
Today, after a two-week break for the school holidays, we began with a catch-up, with everyone saying in turn what they’d been up to, and what their babies are doing now.
This could have turned into the worst kind of competitive one-upbabyship, but it really didn’t. In the group we have a fairly narrow age range, and the babies range from no teeth to eight teeth and from rolling to walking.
I realise I don’t know how everyone was feeling on the inside, but it seemed like all the parents were genuinely proud of each other’s babies and their progress, without any flavour of competitiveness.
And of course this is as it should be, but we parents are just as broken as anyone else and we easily trip into poor behaviour. It’s a real gift to be part of a group that is choosing community over competition.
#3: Mums AND Dads are welcome
In a group of a dozen or so families, it’s mostly Mums who come to SPACE, but we have two Dads who have been there every time I’ve been, and several others who have come occasionally. It’s good to have them there.
#4: Lots of songs to add to your repertoire
I’ve learned lots of new crazy kids’ songs.
Galoop Went the Little Green Frog has a line that says:
We all know frogs go
Well, I certainly didn’t know that before SPACE.
#5 A new whanau is created
Now that many of the babies are mobile, there’s a lot of interaction between them, and between babies and other adults.
Today I had two babies on my knees at one point, and SBJ was befriended by several different parents as he toured the room.
It’s warming to see other parents interacting with your child and to watch the babies being adopted by a bunch of other kind people. It’s a kind of whanau feel, where we all belong with each other.
#6 ‘You’re such a lovely baby!’
And this is the song we end with, again going around the circle to include all the babies:
Goodbye Charlie, you’re such a lovely baby
Yes, we love you!
Goodbye Sophie, you’re such a lovely baby
Yes, we love you too!
How cool is that? And it really does seem true.
If you are a parent of an infant, or you know someone who is – particularly first-time parents and people with extra challenges – you can look here for a programme near you (in New Zealand, and hopefully, in the future, elsewhere). Increasingly there are specialist groups; recently one opened near us specifically for parents with postnatal depression. You can also follow Space NZ on Facebook to get the latest info.
There are of course lots of different parent-child-group things around. If you’ve been involved in one, perhaps you could tell us what has been good about it?
This is an updated post with extra info and links. My boy is now almost three years old and I still feel the same way about how valuable our experience at Space was. Keep it in mind for parents you know.
If you’re new to Sacraparental, feel free to follow us on Facebook (for daily links and resources), Pinterest (you may want to check out my Easy Toddler Fun, Postnatal Depression and Child Development and Science boards for starters) and Twitter, or sign up for email updates in the box at the top right.
Also, this could really be part of my long-running, occasional series on my experience of postnatal depression. You might like to browse through that here.