Playtime at the Bethel
What do you do?
Every Thursday morning, during term-time, our Youth Church Building is transformed into a bustling space to play as we open the doors to Playtime, our parent/carer and toddler group.
We set up a variety of play spaces including jigsaws and construction, small world play with Happy land and farm, dressing up and kitchen area, tool sets, book corner, baby area with playmats and baby bouncers, and a craft table. We open at 10 am, with free play until 11, at which time we put out fruit and toast, with juice and water for a sit-down snack time. Then more time to play until 11.45 when we have an all together singing time, during which leaders start tidying up, and after which the children know it’s home time.
We welcome children and carers on arrival, explaining the set-up to those who are new, and catching up on news with those we may have known now for years. We ask everyone to sign-in and out of Playtime and take a charge of £1 for each child over the age of six months. (We do however, make a point of this charge not being a problem if you can’t afford it, or have forgotten.)
We also give carers the opportunity of leaving us their email address if they’d like to know about other events for children and families at the Bethel; this email contact list is then used for invites to our summer activity days, special Christmas and Harvest services etc.
How much work is
Are there any issues which have arisen?
What's the cost
We run Playtime with 4-5 leaders. 1 will be on the craft table, 1-2 in the kitchen, 1 on the door and 1-2 chatters.
It takes about 45 minutes to set up, and we are usually cleared away by 12.30. Consistency is important in terms of building relationships, so whilst we have one or two people who come occasionally, the core team are there most weeks.
It is a full-on 3 hours, but the time flies, as we are pretty busy!
It’s really important to us that Playtime runs safely. When we first set up, we invited an officer from the LA to speak to us and look over our play space, which gave us assurance we had everything covered.
From a safeguarding point of view, all our leaders have DBS checks; we have stairgates and plug socket covers, we man the door and are vigilant at all times. Because Playtime is not a drop-off event, the responsibility for safety actually lies with the parent/carer, and so we don’t have a set maximum number of children.
It can get very busy, with up to 45 under 5’s in one room; when this happens, some leave a little earlier, and some might stay away for a couple of weeks; it always seems to balance out over a few weeks.
We do have staffing issues sometimes, but we have one or two church members who we can call on in an emergency, but who wouldn’t want to be on a rota.
There can be a problem of carers wanting to bring older children sometimes, and we are pretty strict about this not being ok; as we are so full, we consider the presence of bigger children to be a bit of a hazard. This has caused some tricky conversations as very occasionally we’ve had to turn people away.
The biggest issue is parents/carers being a bit cheeky, (child minders not paying , when they are themselves being paid to look after the children they bring, parents taking lots of extra craft materials home to use with other children not at playtime) or taking the facility for granted ( not helping to clear up when their child has mashed banana into the carpet!)
We try very hard not to react to these things; we’re there to serve, and as long as what they are doing isn’t putting anyone at risk, we try hard to overlook and demonstrate the gracious love of God to all.
The £1 charge provides us with sufficient funds to provide snacks and drinks every week, along with special party food at Christmas and at the end of the summer term.
It also enables us to refresh toys and books regularly, pay for the craft materials, and gifts when the children leave us and go on to school.
We did have a small grant from the church for toys when we first set up and had a successful bid to the LA with which we bought small chairs and tables.
How long has it been running?
We set Playtime up 13 years ago, providing us an opportunity to serve the local community, be a practical demonstration of God’s love and where possible build meaningful relationships with both children and their adult carers.
‘We love coming to the Bethel. It’s a great place for entertaining my two kids .My daughter skips over to do crafts and my son crawls around and explores.’
Have you had a good response?
Playtime is well regarded in our local community; we do no advertising, as word of mouth works really well to bring new people in. We have fliers for Playtime and it is listed on our website. We also have links with LA staff who bring parents who need a little extra support to Playtime, and who use our event to educate parents about benefits and tax credits. Playtime is listed on the LA lists of parent and toddler groups.
So how are we doing? Over the years we have been able to welcome hundreds of children with their Mums, Dads, Grandparents, and child minders; from many countries, of other religions and differing sexualities- all are welcome, and many have become good friends. Interestingly, our Christmas gift to all children – a Nativity book- has always been gratefully accepted by all. Adults comment about the friendly atmosphere and are surprised by simple acts of kindness; tea and coffee served to them on arrival, toast offered to the adults at snack time, the offer to hold a crying baby, and a listening ear for life’s ups and downs.
We ensure our notice boards are covered with positive messages about Jesus, faith hope and love, and frequently have postcard invitations to other events; Bethlehem at the Bethel, Easter Eggstravaganza, special evening services, our Learn to read the Bible course etc. Most of the children who attend our other events for families have been through Playtime at some point, and it is at these occasions where we introduce faith in the Lord Jesus more directly.
Playtime acts as a first point of contact; gaining trust and building relationships is the key. Our conversation tends to be focussed on the needs of those who attend. Sometimes this turns to the Bethel- who we are and what we believe. We are occasionally asked why we do it and that gives us an opportunity to witness to our faith.
On a busy Playtime morning it is a joy to look out over a room full of people enjoying time with their children and their friends, knowing that we have provided this for them; a simple act of service, and who knows what seeds the Lord is planting in doing so?
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