Illustration by Elinor Caspi
That introductory phrase has become ingrained in my mind, as I have been attending Hartbeeps in Elstree, run by Natasha Starr since the tender age of 12 weeks old. With branches all over the country, and soon to be unveiled down under in Melbourne, Australia, Hartbeeps has grown from strength to strength, inviting babies and their parents into a sensory world of light, colour and sound. Creating portable wonderlands that can turn even the most mundane community hall into a vibrant seaside setting, or a rainforest paradise, or a starry dreamscape; Hartbeeps is based on the principles of Reggio Emilia, who championed a child’s ability to explore and express themselves via sensory experiences. Each week a new story is brought to life using practical, yet unusual props and puppetry to engage a child’s imagination with the characters at their fingertips.
Applying elements of music therapy against a backdrop of contemporary music, the Hartbeeps experience generates an interactive theatre for babies and children. Involving the parents in mimicking actions and singing along, further bridging the gap to create a wholly interactive experience for the child; the 45 minute sessions create a wonderful opportunity for bonding as child and parent alike escapes into a world of imagination.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with my Hartbeeps mentor, Natasha, to find out how she discovered Hartbeeps, what makes her sessions unique and whether she’s ever had a celebrity parent enter her Hartbeeps dimension…
Mini Fashionista: How did you get involved with Hartbeeps? When did you begin?
Natasha Starr: I first heard Hartbeeps music when my friend accidently left the cd playing in her car. I’d never heard kids’ music that was so original, fun and catchy. I was inspired to research the group and wrote to my now franchisor asking her how to become involved. Hartbeeps Elstree is fast approaching its third year.
MF: How do you feel music influences a child’s development and creativity?
NS: Music is so important for a child’s development. They learn through rhythm, it helps organise the brain. Add movement to this and you have a really powerful platform for communicating with young children. A young baby will respond to rhythmic movements, an older pre walking baby is highly tuned into the rhythm within language and toddlers will connect with rhymes, songs, number games etc if set to music.
MF: You use a lot of sign language in your classes, how do you feel this enhances the experience for parents and children alike?
NS: I’ve always had an interest in signing. I believe any tool to help communicate with babies and children is worth exploring. I went on a makaton course to increase my skills. I think when I had a non-speaking baby sign thank you to me as I handed her a prop it made me realise just what an incredible method of communication it is. I try to learn all the signs for any new song I’m doing. My favourite is twinkle twinkle which we do at the end under the star laser lamp. When a child signs ‘star’ or ‘diamond’ parents usually well up!
MF: Why should parents choose Hartbeeps over other baby music franchises?
NS: Because we are truly passionate about our work. All the Hartbeeps material is created with hours of research and everything adheres to the Early Years Foundation Stages. Because our props are incredible and ever increasing it would seem! Because we love what we do and want you to love it too.
MF: What do you feel the children take away from Hartbeeps?
NS: First and foremost we hope that the babies have had a bonding experience with their grown up. Each class is a 45 minute snap shot of a child and parent’s week which can often be so busy and fraught with life’s stresses. The class gives mums and babies that special time to bond. Interaction is insisted upon in Hartbeeps and it’s so beautiful to watch the babies playing with each other, responding to familiar beats and exploring life through music.
MF: What’s your favourite Hartbeeps song?
NS: Oooh that’s difficult. I love ‘Little Monkey Friend of mine’, which you will hear this week. We’ve got primates, banana shakers and monkey ears!
MF: What does music mean to you?
NS: Music means everything to me. Sometimes just putting on my intro to Hartbeeps can make me feel happy. Even if I’m tired or stressed I am always feeling better by ‘you are my sunshine’. It’s hard not to really. Hartbeeps music fills my soul.
MF: What is the optimum class size for a Hartbeeps session? Why?
NS: I think a class of 15 is optimum but demand is so high that I often allow more in. It’s difficult to get the right balance. The key is in pre booking for the half term. That way it’s the same mummies each week and each class becomes its own community. There’s nothing I like more than to see friendships blossom between mums and babies in the class.
MF: What makes a Hartbeeps party special?
NS: Hartbeeps parties are bespoke. I talk to you about your child’s passions and work round them. More often than not I’ve known the child for 1-2 years and have a pretty good idea of what they will respond to. I think the light show at the end with all my glow lights and laser lamp is also a unique feature. I hear parents ooh and ahhh if they’ve never seen that before!
MF: Have you ever done Hartbeeps for a celebrity and/or their children?
NS: Yes, Emma Bunton was at a party I recently did. Once I’d gotten over my shock and fear I gave her what she wanted… what she really, really want(ed)! I was also excited to see Sonia from Eastenders at a party!