Claire Schnellmann, currently works as a primary teacher part-time, volunteers locally with her 9 month daughter once a week, and is the founder of the online network ‘Contributing with Children‘ which celebrates and promotes voluntary and paid opportunities which parents can do with their children.
Contributing with one 6-9 month baby
When I emailed organisations to ask if I could volunteer with my baby during maternity leave, I didn’t know anyone else who had done this. I wondered whether it would work at all or whether it was a crazy dream. After 3 full months which have been really enjoyable for all involved I thought I’d share some of the strategies I’ve picked up that help make it work.
They may seem completely basic for anyone who has children of this age or older, but 6 months ago I think I would have found it really reassuring to know that it was possible and that someone else had done it before me, as well as gaining some ideas.
Think about the setting
- Ground floor venues allow may you to bring a stroller which may suit better if you walk or of the baby falls asleep or something you can attach the car-seat to. If you’re not sure a baby carrier or sling may be easier if you have one.
- Maybe bring a mat or something to put on the floor so the baby can sit on your lap or on the floor – you may be able to sit on the floor with them or pull up a chair.
- Depending on the opportunity you may be able to walk with someone – even if it’s in laps around a carpark. My baby loved this and was always content whilst I was able to provide more meaningful support.
Consider the duration and timing
- Personally, I found that 1-2 hours was sufficient if I was engaging with people, but if I had breaks to change and feed my daughter, supervising an activity station or room was also fine for longer. Once I was asked to just be present to wait for a tradesperson at the organisation headquarters: this was really easy as we could just sit and play whilst we waited.
- By this age my daughter was in a (semi) regular nap routine so I was able to commit to a time where it would be shortly after she’d woken up. Even if she hadn’t slept we went anyway – the change of scene and setting helped her mood! We were prompt to leave and her nap when we returned home was reliably longer than usual.
- Don’t forget to feed! When chatting to someone or doing something I found it so easy to calm my child by picking her up, changing her position or showing her toys – then I looked at the time and realised exactly why she was restless and fussy! Try to think about how the time suits your feeding routine – do they need to be breastfed, given a bottle or is it a meal time? Try to think about what you personally need for each situation and choose the easiest time to suit your routine.
Take into consideration what will stimulate and engage
- If the opportunity involves different people the baby is likely to have enough attention and engagement from that, people smiling and making faces is a real hit
- I found that a few small toys in a bag are easy to bring and hopefully won’t end up getting lost or forgotten. Sometimes we saw other children or babies and it was therefore a novelty for them to see my baby’s puppets!
- Depending on how mobile the baby is and whether they can sit up will determine how much space they need and the awareness you need of the area – just like at home. I found that placing my daughter always in front of me as I sat was both helpful to keep my eyes on her and also helped other people recognise that she was there.
- If the baby gets restless hopefully you are able to walk around with them or change position to give them something new to look at. On a few occasions it was additional noise which was an issue – so that just took some extra reassurance and time for her to get used to it.
Clearly all experiences and all babies differ, so if you have additional ideas based on your experience for helping children of this age join you then please do comment below and add to the discussion. It is also encouraging and inspiring to see MTPT regional representatives who lead or facilitate group discussions with their own babies or toddlers – it’s great to learn from you too.