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