Rave reviews for Top of the tots in Derry

Action for Children held a special ‘Top of the tots’ event for Sure Start families last week to mark the end of their Summer Programme.

The event enabled parents to share their experiences of the Sure Start services while musicians Jim Mc Dermot on the saxophone, Scott Burns on the bagpipes and Míchéal Ó Dalaigh on the hand pan percussion instruments played for the children.

Rhonda Murphy, Services Co-ordinator for Waterside Sure Start Action for Children said: “We decided to end our summer music programme with a lovely musical event, with Derry being well-known as a city of music we wanted to honour and celebrate with local families and were able to get local musicians along too. We had someone playing hand pan, bagpipes and saxophone and the children were mesmerised by the performances. The parents enjoyed it very much too!

“Music and mindfulness go hand in hand so with the great weather we were able to use the outdoor mindfulness garden too and it got all the little ones outdoors and playing while the music kept everyone entertained. At Action for Children, we recognise that music has a huge impact on development right from bump to early school age. It helps them understand their emotions and also helps co-ordination and fine motor skills and helps impact speech and language early on too. So it’s hugely beneficial. We had a few babies napping on the way out so they were certainly stimulated by today’s events.

The programmes provide a place for babies and children to interact with others their age.

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“We’ve seen the impact of lockdowns on children who come to our programmes in comparison to previous years. It’s not too late - these programmes that we do are to encourage babies and children with their speech and language, their communication and socialisation, their mental health. We have to remember that lockdowns have also affected the mental health of parents and the health of the family home is so important to development, so Action for Children are supporting all of that through these programmes.”

Simon Coyle, parent of 9 month old Fionn who attends Action for Children’s programmes in Waterside said: “I’m lucky that my partner and I get to decide which classes to go along to, with me attending them when my shifts allow it. It gives me a great opportunity to spend time with Finn. We plan our days around these classes because we understand how beneficial they are for us all as a family. It’s amazing to get out and spend time with other mums and dads who are going through similar times, as well as for Fionn to meet with other children his age – we see it as him going to see his friends.

“Action for Children is a massive part of our life at the moment. It’s totally changed how we look at things. I honestly don’t understand why more dads aren’t bringing their children here because it gives us the perfect playtime and we spend quality time together. Action for Children, for us, is the development for our child. Having him stimulated by all that’s around him and be aware of it – Action for Children provides all of that for us, with the different variety of classes. It really is the shoulder that we have that helps us to learn more about Fionn’s development. We plan our days around the classes provided by Action for Children because it’s so important to us.”

SDLP MLA Sinéad McLaughlin also visited the centre. She said: “It was a pleasure to visit Action for Children Ebrington on Friday and see first-hand the dedicated work of the staff there and the impact that these kinds of essential services are making for families in our community each and every day. The practical and caring services offered here, from parenting education to after-school activities, to signposting and advocacy make a tangible difference to families in Derry.

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Finn has been involved in the programme since 'bump' as his mother attended hypnobirthing classes to prepare for his arrival.

“All children deserve the best start in life and we know that when we intervene early and support families from a child’s first days, this has a huge impact in improving longer-term health and educational outcomes, which is good for everyone in society. This is an issue very close to my heart and I believe we could be doing much more to support these services, especially in the current difficult economic times. For example, the Department of Education should explore ways to expand these vital services so that everyone across our city has access, wherever they live.

“Of course, the ongoing dysfunction of our government at Stormont is making it harder for Ministers to work together to ensure our services are financially sustainable and give more families the support they need. The government needs to get back up and running so we can support centres like this and the families they help.”

For more information on Action for Children and the services they provide, visit actionforchildren.org.uk/northernireland

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Finn, nine months, enjoyed listening to the Baby Shark bagpipe rendition.
Baby Shark on the bagpipes was a firm favourite.
Banging on the drum was a favourite from the toddlers who attended.
Children learned new skills and explored new instruments to enhance their development.

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Even the youngest little ones were able to get in on the fun.
Face painting and drum playing.
Jim McDermott and Scott Burns performed Baby Shark on saxophone and bagpipes.
Míchéal " Dalaigh and Jim McDermott, local musicians, played hand pan and saxophone in the mindfulness garden.

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Outdoor play is key for children in their first few months and years of development.
Parents and childrne enjoyed music by local musicians in the mindfulness garden.
Parents and children took time to explore the instruments in the mindfulness garden.
Parents brought their children and enjoyed playing with musical instruments.

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Scott Burns and Jim McDermott led the day.
Simon and Finn (nine months) work their schedult around the classes as they find them so beneficial.
The sensory room is perfect for the youngest members exploring colours and sounds.

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The sensory room mesmerises the children.
The sensory room provides a calm escape.
SDLP MLA Sinéad McLaughlin meets team members at Action for Children's Top of the Tots event last week.
SDLP MLA Sinéad McLaughlin hearing about the work carried out at Action for Children.