Baby Sensory classes in Stortford are child's play for Natalia
Eleanor Scotchbrook meets Natalia Smith, who quit her career as a beauty therapy lecturer to pursue one better suited to family life raising two young children..
Striking the right work-life balance is the Holy Grail for most working parents – but it has proved child’s play for the leader of Bishop’s Stortford’s popular Baby Sensory classes.
Since taking over the franchise two years ago, Natalia Smith has seen the number of families who attend her weekly sessions double. Almost 100 babies attend her four classes held at Parsonage Lane community hall every Tuesday.
The demand for Baby Sensory has exceeded every expectation that Natalia had when, following the birth of her second daughter, she decided to quit her career as a beauty therapy lecturer to pursue one better suited to family life raising two young children.
“The first time I heard of Baby Sensory was with my first-born in 2012,” she said. “I joined with my NCT friends and absolutely loved it. It was our favourite class of the week and we really looked forward to it.
“I had my second little girl three years later and went back to Baby Sensory. At the time, I was employed three days a week as a lecturer at the London College of Beauty Therapy and working really long hours. With the commute back from Oxford Circus, I didn’t get home until 8 o’clock most nights and, with two little ones, I felt I was missing out on being at home with them.
“Then one week I was sitting in our Baby Sensory class thinking about what I could do to allow me to spend more time at home and I thought ‘Why don’t I do this?’ So I contacted my local Baby Sensory franchise and they said they were actually recruiting for a class leader, so the timing couldn’t have been better.”
After just two months as a class leader, the opportunity arose to buy the Bishop’s Stortford and Harlow franchise – and Natalia has not looked back.
The married 35-year-old said: “When I first purchased the franchise there were around 85 to 90 babies coming along to the three Stortford and two Harlow classes I was running. Now I’m up to 12 classes a week with around 180 babies.
“Ninety per cent of my attendees join through word of mouth, which is a wonderful way to grow, purely on recommendation.”
Founded by UK parenting expert Dr Lin Day in 2008, Baby Sensory has become an award-winning global phenomenon offering parents support and knowledge to aid their baby’s learning and sensory development in the first year of their life. Backed by more than 35 years of research in childhood learning and development, each class is designed to stimulate and educate through sight, sound, touch and taste.
“The training is continuously ongoing and there are about 60 lesson plans, which means every single baby will never see the same class twice,” said Natalia, who is mum to Harlie, 6, and Ruby, 3.
“What I loved about Baby Sensory when I did it with my girls is that it gave me one-on-one time to bond and share new experiences with them. Having a baby is not always easy and Baby Sensory is a great way to help parents deal with some of the stresses and new challenges that parenthood brings.
“Some of my mums have suffered from postnatal depression and have said to me that it has helped them to bond and get to know their baby. One of my mums told me the first time she ever touched her baby’s nose was in my class.
“It doesn’t always come naturally for everyone, depending on the type of pregnancy or birth you’ve had, and sometimes forming that bond takes a little bit longer for some people than for others.”
Such is the demand for Natalia’s classes that on May 14 she opened a dedicated WOW Centre based at Harlow Leisurezone to be able to offer additional classes, including a new Toddler Sense session for pre-schoolers aged from 13 months. She has also for the first time had to employ an additional member of staff.
Natalia, who spent her childhood in South Africa, said: “Some of the Toddler Sense classes sold out in the first five minutes. One of my mums said it was easier to get Rolling Stones tickets!
“But clearly there’s a need for more classes in this area and I’m pleased to say that a lot of families I’ve had to say goodbye to after they’ve graduated from Baby Sensory are coming back to try Toddler Sense, so it will be wonderful to see them again and see how much they’ve grown since the last time I saw them.”
She added: “When I started this two years ago, I completely underestimated how successful it would be, and to now have my own centre is a dream come true.
“It’s exceeded every expectation that I had and has been the most wonderful experience. I feel incredibly lucky to have a job that I adore – it’s given me so much joy and, most importantly, precious time with my girls.”
* For timetable information about the Baby Sensory classes in Bishop’s Stortford and at the WOW Centre, visit www.babysensory.com/harlow.