More services than ever on offer for families with young children

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Not that long ago in the Czech Republic, parents with young children - babies or toddlers - were often hard-pressed to find venues catering specifically to their needs, but more and more that situation has changed. Arguably, more services are now available than ever – from restaurants offering children’s corners to centres organising all manner of activities for toddlers.

Simona Kalašová is the head of a non-profit organisation focussing on active parenthood, which runs a website called PěknýDen (NiceDay); the website focuses on providing users with all kinds of information regarding family services. Demand has only grown since the website was launched in 2006.

Simona Kalašová
“We founded PěknýDen because three of us had children of our own and we wanted to create a comprehensive overview of available services: activities for children, what families could do in their free time, what programmes were on offer. The first year-and-a-half came out of our pockets but then we went professional, founding the civic association. We began to look for funding and focussed not just on Prague but on the whole of the Czech Republic.”

And, Simona Kalašová says, the scale of services on offer has changed substantially.

“You can really see there’s been a major improvement. We had out first child in 2004 and back then there were only a few places in Prague focussing on families with children. But since then it’s turned around: with the ‘baby boom’ more and more businesses realised that families and toddlers were customers too and began offering more services.”

One of those who has noticed and has been able to take advantage of at least some improvements is Valerie Korinek, a Prague resident and mother of Sam, who is two years old. Sam is a member of a toddler’s club he goes to once a week; and at least several times a month his family vists a Prague restaurant with his parents – a place featuring a large carpeted space with cushions, a slide, toys, and even a children’s hide-away. Sam also used to take his first swimming lessons, which his mum says he also enjoyed.

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“He loves water in general and so it was perfect for him. He loved playing in it. He also tried to follow what the instructor did and cooperated. It was only sometimes that he didn’t like some of the exercises. On the one hand, it’s really good because they move in the water; but on the other hand, it’s a big business here and I don’t think the relation between cost and value is well balanced. I expected a little bit more.”

I wanted a chance to see some services up close, so I visited a small pool in the city centre where Betynka - a well-known swimming school - offers lessons for even the smallest “swimmers” – babies older than six months. The idea is that children grow used to the water early on and later swim with confidence. The children I saw with their mothers were about a year and a half to two years old – and as far as I could tell were mostly happy in the water, following a series of familiar exercises or moves guided by their mums and the instructor.

I spoke to Martina Ježková, who is the head of the Betynka school:

“We’ve been doing this for 12 years but we only gradually added lessons for the smallest ‘swimmers’. In the water, children are able to develop their motor skills and elements of swimming. Children nine months and older gradually learn basic moves, moving their arms in strokes or kicking their feet, which they will build on later. It’s not just about swimming but about relationships: between the parent and the child, the child and the instructor, and of course the toddler and other children.”

At the same time, Martina Ježková stresses that not all activities are suitable for every child: benefits can be highly individual, one reason parents should always try to learn as much as they can about any given activity and if necessary consult their child’s paediatrician:

“I offer all potential members at our school a free lesson to give them a chance to see what it is like. To see if they’ll enjoy it, if they like the instructor, and above all to see if it is suitable for their toddler. That is what is the most important.”

Not all businesses focussing on families with young children necessarily take such a dedicated approach, something highlighted at the PěknyDen website, which includes a board where parents can warn other users of bad experiences: for example, hotels that turn out to be less than family-friendly, clubs that offer a different level of services than advertised, or restaurants where children’s corners amounting to little more than a dingy space and a few ratty toys. Simona Kalašová of the Civic Association for Active Parenthood again:

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“I’ve seen cases where restaurants had corners insufficient for a large number of kids. They may have even had a certificate of recognition called Místo přátelské rodinně – designating a family-friendly space. But they didn’t think it through, whereas firms that really set out to really focus on families don’t usually have such problems.”

But Simona Kalašová says parents and children have more successful projects to look forward to than nought, and not only in the Czech capital:

“Prague is of course a step ahead but other regions are catching up. There’s a big drive among regions to see improvements and to gain funds from the European Social Fund. A fantastic project being put together in Brno is called ‘Family Point’, creating secure spaces where mothers can breastfeed or change their child’s diapers. They will also provide family-related information and a playroom, and there will be a space where parents can meet. Anything like this was unheard of five years ago.”