|Suzanne Sancho creates safe, welcoming space for kids |
James Dupraj Sunday, January 8 2017
“As a mother of two young children, there has always been a constant battle to find somewhere comfortable, clean, and child friendly for breakfast or lunch,” says Suzanne Sancho, co-owner of Irie Elephant Café and Play Areas. “Not only that, but I wanted to enjoy a hot cup of coffee while they were entertained and comfortable,” she adds of the further challenges of finding kid friendly spaces that also cater for the creature comforts of parents. Compounding these challenges, she reveals, was the fact that as a working mother, the spaces she sought to offer a safe and welcoming environment for her children did not offer similar environments for parents on the go to catch up with work “without my phone being used as a Peppa Pig streaming device or being worried my children were disturbing anyone.” It was her desire for such a space that led her to create Irie Elephant with the help of her business partner, Tanya.
Located at 8A Rookery Nook, Maraval, Irie Elephant’s mission is to promote happy and healthy families; according to Suzanne, “A space where mothers can catch up, where dads can ‘babysit’, a place of support, learning, and development.” She laments the old saying “it takes a village to raise a child” is fast becoming a distant and foggy memory and through Irie Elephant she hopes she has created a space where parents feel safe to seek advice, share stories of parenting, and offer support to each other. “We all need some time to recuperate and rebalance – and it’s not always possible with children,” she highlights one of the main challenges of parenthood. “Hopefully we can help, even just a little bit!” She gives an example of something as simple as going to the restroom alone as one of the “luxuries” parents feel they are afforded while spending time at Irie Elephant.
Irie Elephant is a café with both outdoor and indoor play areas, spa services, a kid’s clothing store, as well as a rentable conference room. “We even have our own party planner who takes away all the stress of providing everything, from party bags to pony rides!” she says excitedly of one of the business’ more hands-on services for parents who may lack the time for such activities. The outdoor play area is large, given the need for children to release energy in fresh air and she shares that one of Irie’s main goals is to expand and develop this outdoor area further in 2017. There are also weekly events such as art classes, baby groups, and movie nights “not just for kids but for parents, grandparents, and uncles,” she shares about the inclusive nature of all of Irie’s offerings.
Expanding on the activities hosted by Irie Elephant, Suzanne explains the business offers two baby groups: Musical Tots with Aunty Gemma and a Baby & Toddler Group with Aunty Eva. The Musical Tots class is described as a fun, interactive musical journey including vocal warm ups, nursery rhymes, finger puppets, baubles, and shakers while the Baby & Toddler group targets aspects of babies’ and toddlers’ cognitive, social, learning, and physical development through play and games. Both women who lead these classes are trained in their fields and “have a genuine love for what they do, both with the children and the parents.” Beyond the positive ways these classes may move children, Suzanne says they also allow a space for parents to share various experiences and stories. “It can be very hard to find a release for your achievements as well as problems when you are a parent; sometimes you just want to know someone else believes your baby is amazing or the pain of a complete lack of sleep; that’s why I encourage mothers and fathers to come to these classes [because] we are all in the same boat.”
Other classes provided are Art for the Soul courses that teach children and parents how to paint on canvas, a robotics class in February that incorporates Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) education, etiquette training for young ones from general manners to table decorum, as well as Outdoor Paint and Play events. Suzanne describes these as “a whole heap of messy fun with no clean up for mum!” She also points out that the Irie Elephant space is rentable to anyone who believes they can offer workshops, seminars, or host events that are beneficial to the growth of children and parents and the strengthening of these bonds. “We are all about empowering parents, especially mothers who may have left work to take care of their children,” she says of the encouragement Irie hopes to inspire in both its teachers and students.
“In public, parents and onlookers are too quick to tell children to ‘be quiet, don’t make a mess’ or, as I always did, put on YouTube,” Suzanne says of the small ways children are made to shrink their self-expression. “In Irie Elephant, it is a place where parents can relax enough to sit in the play area and the idea of being out is no longer a chore.” She says parents play more with their children at Irie because the thought of clean up, noise, and mess is no longer an issue. “Part of growing up and learning is playing with food, getting used to textures, developing our fine motor skills to pick up food with a fork; how will [children] learn if they can’t make a mess?” She says her business partner has always stated that Irie’s space is not just for children but also for parents; creating a relaxing environment where parents can “walk out of Irie Elephant with their head held high and a little less stress on their shoulders.”
At the heart of Irie’s goal is creating environments that are conducive to the positive growth and sustenance of parent/ child relationships. Suzanne emphasises the classes offered help children to become better communicators overall, which can lend itself to strengthening bonds between them and adults for less quick childhood dismissal and more integrative and loving learning techniques. “For anyone looking for a place to start, no matter how big your dream is, you can start here,” she encourages all persons, parents or children-lovers alike, to visit and add to Irie’s growing syllabus. “We want everyone to use our space, whether as a customer or a partner in developing each other’s businesses.
“Life is too short for competition, let’s build each other up!”