Top Party Tips

We’ve been running birthday parties for tots for nearly 5 years now, and I’ve picked up a few good ideas to make sure things run smoothly.

I think it’s nice to mark a child’s first birthday in some way – you made it through the first year! A family tea party is a nice idea with a couple of friends from a post-natal group. You can sing some songs and let the children play with a few toys.

However, some families like to make it a bigger event and invite a few more people, either to their home or to a hired space. With young children (1–2 years old) you don’t want too much structured entertainment because they have a limited concentration span. I would say 30 to 45 minutes is plenty, and it should be geared to the age of the birthday child. No point in having a magic show or a disco for a 1-year-old and his friends! If you go to a regular dance, music or gym class with your baby then you can always ask the class leader if they would come and do a special session to celebrate your child’s birthday.

For a Movers and Shakers party, we find out your child’s favourite songs or characters and build a party theme around them. For example, if a child’s favourite song is Old Macdonald, but she also loves Peppa Pig, then we might bring a big cuddly Peppa Pig to the party, and then go to Old Macdonald’s farm with her and meet all her friends: Baa Baa Black Sheep, Horsey Horsey and the Five Little Piggies! 

We also understand that children this age want to join in rather than just watch and listen, so we make sure every child has their own instrument to shake and bang along in time with the songs. We also play parachute games and have lots of fun popping bubbles.

Fun and games on the Movers and Shakers parachute

Fun and games on the Movers and Shakers parachute

At this age parents need to support their children and help them join in the fun. And then after half an hour or so, the children will be ready for some food, or a bit of free play with some toys. This is a great chance for the adults to socialise and chat.

If you know that there are lots of grown-ups at the party who won’t want to join in the children’s entertainment, it might be a great idea to have them in a separate room. I sometimes hear back from party leaders that they were worried the children weren’t able to hear their singing because there was so much background noise from the adults!

It can be hard to ask everyone to keep quiet, but our party leaders do it very politely (and ask permission from the party organiser first!) as we want to make sure the birthday boy or girl has the best party ever.

Another thing to avoid, particularly with slightly older children, is having lots of food and balloons everywhere. Children of 2 or 3 years old are easily distracted, no matter how wonderful the entertainment is, so my advice would be to hide the food and balloons away and then get them out when required.

If anyone has any top tips for parties for 1–3 year olds then please leave a comment below. 

Baby Group or Toddler Group?

At Movers and Shakers we run three different types of group. You might be wondering which is the right group for your child.

    There may be babies as young as 2 or 3 months at these classes. Carers should feel safe lying babies on the floor under the parachute without worrying that they are going to be trampled. If older children come to these classes, then their parents need to be vigilant and step in if necessary.
    There may be children as old as 3 years at these classes. They will want to dance and move around. If babies come to this class, then they should be kept safe on their grown-up’s lap.
    We run these groups in venues where we can have only one session per week, or in new venues where we are building numbers and don’t have enough customers to run two separate groups. These groups are also convenient for parents who have two or more children of different ages. At these classes we ask all grown-ups to be sensitive to the needs of others around them. It’s a good idea for walking children to take their shoes off in case they accidentally step on another child’s fingers.

We define the age groups as ‘baby’ or ‘toddler’ rather than prescribing particular ages. This is because every child is different. Let’s take two examples:

  • Amy is 11 months old. She is beginning to walk but prefers to crawl at super speed across the room. She is robust and inquisitive and wants to explore the space and investigate the other children. She would probably be happier in a toddler or mixed-age group. She’ll learn a lot from watching the older children as well, and Amy’s dad might feel anxious if she were zooming around a room with lots of young babies laying on the floor!
  • Bethmi is also 11 months old. She is happier sitting with her mum and watching everything going on around her. She can shuffle on her bottom and is starting to move further away from her mum during sessions as her confidence grows. Bethmi might be happier in a baby class or a quieter mixed-age class. She might feel overwhelmed in a room full of boisterous toddlers.

Of course the best thing about Movers and Shakers is that you can try a few different classes to see which one works best for you, as we don’t make you sign up for a whole term at one venue. So if you’re still not sure which class is right for your child, try one out and see if it works for you.

If you have any ideas about ways in which we can improve the classes offered to children of different ages then please comment below!

7 Reasons to Book (Not Just Pitch Up)

For any of you who say to yourselves:

“What’s the point of this booking system? Surely it’s unnecessary? If you turn up, can’t the teacher just squeeze you in?”

…here are seven compelling reasons why you should ALWAYS book a place at your favourite Movers and Shakers session and NEVER just turn up on the off chance:

  • You are guaranteed a place in the class.
  • It’s really easy.
  • If a class gets cancelled for any reason, we can get in touch with you to let you know.
  • If you turn up and the class is full, then we really will have to turn you away, and that makes you and us sad.
  • You can still cancel your place, even at the last minute.
  • It really helps us to manage the class if we know how many people to expect.
  • Occasionally we need to get in touch with everyone who has attended a class – for example, if someone comes down with chicken pox after the session or if there is an item of lost property that we want to return. If you’ve booked your place, then we’ll be able to contact you easily.

All Change!

Some of you may have noticed that something is afoot in the wonderful world of Movers and Shakers: a new logo, a new website, beautiful new instrument bags at our classes… What’s going on? Well, I’ll tell you.

Up until now, Movers and Shakers has been operating under the wing of our other company, The Playing Space, which offers speech and drama education to older children. But Movers and Shakers is now a company in its own right, and this has happened largely because on 1 November we are launching our very first franchise! That’s right, we are spreading the joy beyond Haringey, and into Barnet and Southgate.

When I started this company back in 2008 it was meant to be a little sideline, a ‘pocket money’ job to keep me busy while I looked after our second baby. It has grown far beyond anything I ever anticipated.

Almost from the very beginning, the two classes I ran each week were fully booked – so I set up two more classes. And then these became full as well. I started getting calls from managers at other venues who had heard about our sessions and wanted us to come to them. It soon became apparent that I couldn’t teach all the classes myself and still have the time that I wanted with our 6-month-old baby. So the first big step in our development came a few months after I started Movers and Shakers, when I trained two new teachers to run the classes I couldn’t do myself. And that’s how things have been running since then (except that I now have lots more teachers!)

From the beginning, it was clear that – in a saturated market – I had found an approach that offered something unique. For whatever reason (I can think of lots – you can read about some of them in a previous blog) parents and carers were choosing to bring their child to Movers and Shakers instead of (or as well as) sessions offered by other companies. By the start of 2013, we were running twenty sessions each week, and most of those were full or nearly full.

We were still receiving calls from venues further afield requesting us to run sessions, but I realised that it would be detrimental to the classes already running if I spread my focus too wide. With more than 300 children attending Movers and Shakers each week, managing the bookings and keeping everyone happy was already a full time job.

The obvious next step was to franchise the company and create Movers and Shakers territories that would each be run and nurtured by their own business owner. I wanted to keep the Alexandra Palace territory (which includes Crouch End, Stroud Green, Highgate, Muswell Hill, and Bowes Park), but I decided that anything outside that zone was up for grabs.

I was delighted when Erica Bartrum (who already worked as a drama teacher for The Playing Space) expressed an interest in becoming a franchisee. I knew Erica well and could see that she not only had a fun bubbly personality – ideal for running brilliant sessions – but was also highly organised and intelligent and a really good communicator – perfect as a business owner as well.

Erica and I have been working together for the last couple of months, and she has been running some fabulous classes as well as receiving training in all the behind-the-scenes business stuff. I know she is going to run a brilliant franchise in the Barnet and Southgate territory. She inherits a couple of classes that I had already set up in Palmers Green and Southgate and is starting up loads more of her own!

So, I’m going to raise a metaphorical glass of bubbly to Erica, and wish her huge success in the launch of her own Movers and Shakers business. You can find out all about her classes and latest news on her own webpage – see below. If you plan to attend classes in the Ally Pally area, all the information you need is on that webpage. Be sure to bookmark them for future reference:

Movers and Shakers Barnet and Southgate
Movers and Shakers Alexandra Palace

I’ll end by saying that I am really looking forward to introducing our second franchisee at some point. Who knows when that will happen or who it will be? If you know someone, or if you yourself are interested in running your own Movers and Shakers business, then please get in touch with us, and I could be writing about you in a blog in the not too distant future!

Movers and Shakers is a Netmums Winner!

We are delighted to announce that Movers and Shakers is officially the best pre-school class in Haringey! We are the proud recipients of a Netmums Gold Award 2012. Here’s our certificate:

Movers and Shakers beat off competition from dozens of other classes in the area to take the top prize in the national awards from the UK’s biggest parenting site, Over a million Netmums users were able to vote for the awards, making them the UK’s biggest parenting prize.

We are delighted that Haringey’s Mums, Dads and childminders have judged our classes the best in Haringey and would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who voted for us. The Netmums award means a great deal, as it’s voted for by parents. It’s great to know that you and your babies and toddlers enjoy attending our wonderful sessions as much as we enjoy providing them.

Founded in 2000, Netmums is the UK’s biggest parenting website. With over 1.2 million members and five million visits every month, it is the UK’s busiest social networking and information site for parents.

To find out whether Movers and Shakers sessions take place near you and to book a place, have a look at our find a class page.

Why I Started Movers and Shakers

Movers and Shakers started four years ago when my second son was a few months old. I already had two failed attempts to start a pre-school music group under my belt so I was wary about giving it another try. However a Children’s Centre had just opened at my older son’s primary school and they were keen to get some groups running. The manager knew I had some experience in this area and when she asked me what my group was called ‘Movers and Shakers’ just popped out of my mouth. I’m not sure where it came from. She asked if I would run a class for a six-week trial period. I agreed and then went home to decide what I was going to do!

Past experience has taught me three valuable lessons:

1) Keep It Simple. My previous classes had incredibly elaborate lesson plans, props and costumes. It took me a couple of hours to plan each class and cost a fortune in bits and bobs.

2) Keep It Cheap. There are lots of ways to keep costs down without compromising on quality. I knew I wanted my classes to be affordable for everyone who wanted to come. This meant getting groups funded by Children’s Centres and offering them to parents for free, or choosing venues with low or zero rents.

3) Keep It Fun. I had had a couple of bad experiences at groups with my energetic first son. Sometimes the person leading the group seemed not to like or understand toddlers very well (“Excuse me, could you please keep your son away from my CD player?”) or there was a sense of being herded in and out at the beginning and end of sessions with no opportunity for children to play or parents to chat. Even if the class was brilliant I was still reluctant to return.

Let’s be clear about this: groups like Movers and Shakers are good for pre-schoolers. They get the neurones in their brains firing, develop an understanding of the world and routines; they teach vocabulary and a sense of rhythm and they are good place to start learning acceptable social behaviour. But are they good for mums, dads, and the others who bring their children? As a new mum I felt incredibly vulnerable at these classes. My son was not the sort of child who would sit still on my lap. He was constantly up and about, exploring the world, glancing back at me for a smile that said “It’s okay – you’re safe. I’m here if you need me.” There was one group leader in particular that insisted he sat on my lap for the duration of the session. Why she preferred a screaming child on my lap to happy child wandering around is beyond me.

So, when setting up Movers and Shakers I placed a strong emphasis on the atmosphere I wanted to generate in the group. I made sure that I allowed plenty of time at the start and finish for parents to chat and children to play. When training new teachers I continue to stress the importance of a safe, fun atmosphere free from judgement. If a child switches off your CD player in the middle of a song, who cares? It’s funny! There are difficult moments, especially when a child is “experimenting with violence” – and maybe this is something I’ll discuss in a future post because it’s worth examining in more detail.

If you come to a Movers and Shakers group then please leave any comments below – I’d love to hear why our sessions are important to you. Also leave a comment to let me know which topics you’d like me to cover in this blog. It won’t all be about Movers and Shakers. We’ll be looking at anything relevant to parents and carers of children aged zero to three!