WALK into the Family Learning classroom at Monteney Children’s Centre in Ecclesfield and you are immediately welcomed into a room full of warmth, laughter and confidence.
The seven mums sitting around a big table are talkative, clear and funny and have a great bond with each other and their tutor, Dawn Kirby.
It’s hard to credit that several had to pluck up the courage just to walk through the door on their first day or that many had suffered with post-natal depression.
At Monteney, the pre-school youngsters play in a creche next door while their mums learn. The group have been training to be ambassadors for family learning, encouraging other people to try it out.
They are doing a presentation next week, something most would never have imagined themselves doing.
Lindsay, mum of Theo, aged four, said: “I would never, ever have got up and spoken in front of everybody, even people you know.
“It’s not like school. I didn’t like school one bit. There’s a really nice atmosphere here. It’s just like a coffee morning.”
Kimberley, mum of Harley who is almost two, said: “I never had any confidence at all. It was the health visitor who told me and I said put my name down, I need to socialise. I wasn’t going to come at first but since then it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done.
Melanie, whose children are 19 and 21, took on two-year-old Malachie as a tiny baby on a special guardianship order. She said: “I worked all my life and then I was stuck at home all day with CBeebies! I came here for Malachie to mix with other kids and for me to come with the social aspect. You start using your brain again.
“I decided to go to Hillsborough College and did a maths GCSE in a six-month course.”
Lindsay did a family health matters course and was so inspired by it that she lost four stone.
Natalie, who has a daughter Kara, aged two, has found the chance to talk to other mums a big help. She said: “It is hard being a mum – nobody tells you how hard it is. I would think maybe it’s me doing it wrong and sometimes I’d think I don’t know what to do. It’s nice to hear other people saying the same.”
Adele has been bringing two-year-old son Aidan with her on courses since he was a few weeks old. She says he loves it as much as she does.
She added: “If I were to just sit and do nothing it annoys me. I’m doing something learning-wise and we will all try to be good advocates who are going to come out and say to people to come along, you’ll be given the chance to talk and learn in a fun way.”
Tutor Dawn added: “I am a facilitator more than anything else. I learn from you, that’s the nice thing.”
Lots of the courses help parents improve their own skills in writing and maths and teach them how to help their children as well.
Lynette, who has four children aged four to 14, went on one course that helped her understand the way maths is taught in schools now. Before she couldn’t help her kids with their homework.
They also made board games that teach youngsters counting in a fun way. She said: “It makes it fun to learn without the kids thinking that they are learning. It’s continuing on from doing what they are doing in school.”
Another course Lynette went on used the K’Nex building game to teach construction skills and maths – and now the whole family are hooked on building models together.
Sarah, who was a business manager at the BSM driving school before she had Evan three years ago, says the courses can help parents who want to find jobs. She said: “I can’t wait to get back to work. This is giving me the boost to do it. I feel like I can talk to adults again.”
Sarah said she had bad post-natal depression: “If I hadn’t been here I’d have been pumped up on drugs, sat at home rocking and probably drinking wine at 9am!
“On Wednesday night, the night before these sessions, I have a bath and wash my hair and feel as if I’m going somewhere special. I wake up excited and think ‘it’s Thursday!’”
To find out more about Family Learning in Sheffield from school family learning co-ordinators or from children’s centres. contact the Family Learning team on 0114 2667503.
Dawn said it was hard to get dads to come along, so special animation courses have been set up with them in mind, where dads can have fun making stop-motion films with their children.