Monthly Archives: November 2013

Baby College

Last week the Baberoo and I attended a session of Baby College, a baby and parent development course that includes physical, multi-sensory, and cognitive games and activities to enjoy together. Baby College runs classes in eight different areas of Oxford and the surrounding area. Note that this review is only for the session at St Anthony of Padua Church Hall in Headington/Marston (115 Headley Way, OX3 7SS); it doesn’t comment on any of the other venues or sessions.

The name Baby College is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but the course certainly boasts a varied curriculum. Each session includes movement, singing, exploration, and baby sign language, plus an emailed handout for parents to read which includes details of a different aspect of a baby’s development each week. It’s generally advisable to sign up for the full 12-week course (£72) because places are limited, but you can book a single session for £6.50 if there are spaces available.

We signed up for a trial of the 9-18 month age group since the Baberoo is 10 months old (there’s also an infant session for 0-9 months and a junior session for 18 months-3 years). It was a real change for her to be in a group of babies older than her rather than the same age or younger. I think she might have felt a little daunted by the fact that everyone else was a proficient crawler, while she had only just learned how to crawl a few days before the class. However, she braved most of the activities, and particularly enjoyed the touch-and-feel cards, the parent-baby dancing, and the coloured balls.The Baberoo plays at Baby College

The session we attended focussed on textures, and I have found myself looking at and commenting on more textures at home with the Baberoo as a result – so clearly, it has had an impact! Unfortunately – and this is in no way the fault of the course content – the timing of the course had an unwelcome impact on the Baberoo’s naptimes (why, oh why, must all baby activities be scheduled during morning naptime??), which means that despite enjoying ourselves we’re going to be cutting down on attending most activities until the nap schedule has righted itself.

How did Baby College rate for baby-friendliness? My ratings system for activities is on an 8-point scale, looking at space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding. For more about these, see my About page.

Space: The church hall at St Anthony’s is one huge room that is divided into two for the Baby College sessions. The outer area is a waiting room, with a few chairs and a table and plenty of room for parking your baby carriage. The classroom area is large enough to comfortably fit at least fifteen parents and their babies as well as the assortment of toys, objects, and props that are used in the classes. The high ceilings and large windows ensure a bright, well-lit area. But there’s not much in the way of interesting details in the building; it’s a very new-looking church hall and it’s somehow devoid of personality.

Baby College waiting area

Ambiance: Donna, our instructor (and one of the co-founders of Baby College Oxford), was very welcoming and led the session with aplomb, considering the chaos that can ensue when a dozen toddlers are presented with fun toys and objects to explore. The parents were friendly and welcomed us as newcomers. All the babies and parents were clearly aficionados of the course and had been attending for the whole term (we joined in on week 7 of 12). In general there was a lovely ambiance from the class attendees – especially the babies, who were really enjoying themselves.

Facilities: Surprisingly, there are no baby-changing facilities in the church hall, just regular bathrooms – which is really a shame, and bad planning on the part of the building designers.  Parents can change their babies on the floor in the classroom or in the waiting area, and there’s also a table in the waiting area that can be used, but there isn’t a sink or garbage pail nearby so it’s not very useful if you have a major change to do.

Feeding: If you’re breastfeeding you can sit on one of the chairs in the waiting area. We didn’t do a breastfeed on the day and I didn’t see anyone else using the room for that purpose, but I would have felt fine doing so, although perhaps it wouldn’t have been the most comfortable of seating.

By my ratings system, the Baby College session at St Anthony’s in Headington/Marston scores a 5.5 out of 8 for baby-friendliness. It’s the venue’s lack of facilities, rather than the class content itself, that results in this score. The session itself was a pleasure, and when the Baberoo is back on track with her nap times I may venture back with her again.

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Jacobs Inn

Like all the food-related bloggers in and around Oxford, it was only a matter of time before I reviewed Jacobs Inn (130 Godstow Road, Wolvercote, OX2 8PG), the new(ish – they opened in July) dining room and public house by the people who brought you Jacobs and Field. I had been looking forward to the day with great anticipation.

The Baberoo, her Gran and I visited the restaurant for a weekday lunch, having booked the day before, and boy was I glad we had. It was jam-packed in there; the Jacobs Inn guys do a great job at PR and they have an almost cult-like following already.  They even have a Twitter account for their chickens (@jacobschickens), which they keep in the back garden along with their pigs. Talk about locally-sourced eating!

To tide us over before our lunch arrived I ordered some pork crackling with apple relish (£3.50). The apple relish was delicious, but the crackling had been overdone to a hardness that was no longer edible – really too bad, since I had been hoping for a crispy treat.

Jacobs Inn pork crackling

It was hard to decide on my main, given all the delicious-sounding meats on the menu. The venison and bacon ragu sounded tempting, but in the end I went with the Blythburg free range pork belly (£13). It was tender and succulent, with a lovely, almost jammy, seared exterior. I offered some to the Baberoo – big mistake, because she liked it so much that she clamoured for more and ended up eating half of it!

Jacobs Inn pork belly

Despite the pork cracklings not turning out well, I enjoyed the meal and the relaxed atmosphere, and would certainly go back to Jacobs Inn. So, how did it fare on the baby-friendliness scale? My ratings system (explained fully on my About page) encompasses five criteria: menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: For a restaurant that revolves mainly around meat, Jacobs Inn has a surprising number of dishes that can be eaten with one hand while you hold a baby in the other arm. Although the big cuts of meat that require both knife and fork aren’t a possibility, a pie, pasta dish, stew, and lots of starter and brunch plates are easily enjoyed one-handed.

Space: The restaurant area is in the back of the inn, easily accessible with a pushchair (although we didn’t have one on the day since we came in a car). There’s not too much room between tables, so groups of parents with babies in carriages might have a hard time, although there were a few nooks and crannies in the dining room where more than one pushchair might fit, if you can get it through a somewhat narrow space in the middle of the restaurant area. Jacobs Inn also has parking – always handy if you have a car and would prefer to make the trip out to Wolvercote without braving public transport, although the number 6 bus does go right by the inn. But be warned: the parking lot can be a pretty tight squeeze, as we learned on our way out (no thanks to the obstinate lady in a Porsche).

Jacobs Inn interior 3

Ambiance: Quintessential laid-back gastropub, complete with roaring fire. It’s a beautiful interior. Staff were very friendly and helpful with the Baberoo. We were offered a high chair immediately and shown the way to the facilities when we needed them. Staff didn’t even blink at the amount of food that the Baberoo threw on the nice cowhide rug underneath our table and told me to leave the mess for them to clean up (I did clean it myself, though – who wants to pick up half-eaten cucumber and muffin?) The Baberoo also received lots of attention from a nearby table of friendly lunching ladies, which tickled us no end.

Jacobs Inn interior 1

Facilities: The baby-changing table at Jacobs Inn is somewhat of a puzzler. It’s a wooden shelf that folds down from the wall and has one leg supporting it. It’s easy to accidentally kick the leg and dislodge it (which I did), and although I could see that the table had supports at the wall, I was still nonplussed at the idea that the leg could be so out of place. I knew the table wasn’t going to fall, but it still didn’t inspire confidence. Otherwise, the bathroom was clean and fresh-smelling and had enough room for a pushchair to fit comfortably. No shelf or area to put your changing bag, though.

Jacobs Inn baby-changing facilities

Feeding: The Baberoo ate a lunch brought from home (along with half of my pork belly); our table was on the small side so if you’re planning on seating your baby in a high chair and feeding them, see if you can get a table with enough surface area for the baby’s lunch (which always turns out to take up twice as much space as you think it will). If you’re breastfeeding, there are some tables with soft bench seating that might be more comfortable than the wooden chairs.

By my ratings scale, Jacobs Inn earns a 7.5 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. It’s best to reserve a table, even for a weekday lunch. Go and relax by the fire and remember not to let your baby eat half your meal.

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