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 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.
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.