Staring into the eyes of your baby is magical, but after a few snow-bound (or heat-bound) days at home, you might be craving more conversation than "da da da." Meet adults in your area, while stimulating your child's imagination by signing up for a class. Classes are a great way to find a community of grown-ups with kids just the right age for play dates with your tykes and you. Here's a review of some of the most popular classes at national chains.
Kindermusik and Music Together
Let the kids try a variety of instruments at Kindermusik and Music Together. The philosophies of each are similar: All kids are musical and the joy of music should be shared in a fun way, and as such, instruments, song play, and movement are an integral part of both classes. Each provides CDs and song books so the music can be practiced at home. Kindermusik classes are divided by age group, beginning with Kindermusik Village, for newborns to 18-month-olds and continuing through to Kindermusik for the Young Child, serving 5 to 7 year olds. Family classes are offered for those with children of varying ages. Music Together primarily runs mixed-age classes, but has recently introduced a class specifically for babies and one for 5 and 7 year olds. The style of music in each class is quite different: Kindermusik has a slightly formal, almost choral, sound to the music, while Music Together is folksier. Samples of the music can be found at each of their Web sites and personal taste will determine which style suits your family.
Parent comments about Kindermusik and Music Together
- At Kindermusik, "there was a lot of repetition of songs, which made them easy for the kids to learn. The kids were then excited to hear them at home. The older class is drop-off--a great transition to preschool!" --Dawn K., Bedford, MA
- "Wanting something to do that might include interaction with other grown-ups and having a fondness for music, I gave Music Together a try. That was six years ago, we continue to attend with our second child and I am now a teacher. It's the perfect balance of fun and silliness with music and developmental theory." -?Margit G., Arlington, MA
My Gym and The Little Gym
Running around like crazy is an important part of childhood. Gyms for little people to the rescue! My Gym and The Little Gym offer scaled-down gymnastics equipment for tots. My Gym begins classes at 6 weeks and The Little Gym at 4 months--don't worry, no one is swinging on the parallel bars just yet. Classes start out with music and movement as parents are guided through play with their children. At around age 3, kids take classes without adult participation, as they develop gymnastic skills and build personal fitness. In addition to class fees, My Gym requires a one-time membership and The Little Gym has an annual membership fee. Both programs also frequently offer special programs such as dance, sports, and karate as well as parents' nights out.
Parent comments about My Gym and The Little Gym
- At My Gym "there were a lot of varied activities for my one-year-old, like movement and circle time. A great introduction to coming together as a group." --Jennie G., Bedford, MA
- My daughter loves The Little Gym! It is a terrific environment to have fun while building confidence, physical capability and social skills!" --Sandra F., Seattle, WA
At heart, Gymboree is also a run-around-and-play class, but it differs substantially from the two gym programs. The emphasis here is less on building specific gymnastics skills and more on developing general motor skills. All of the classes, which run from "0 months" to 5 years old, require adult participation. Songs, parachutes and bubbles are an integral part of the play. In addition to the movement classes, classes are offered in art, music, sign language, as well as "Global Kids," which teaches about the international community. Gymboree has a variety of classes for families with children of various ages--a great solution for a care giver with a toddler and a newborn. The organization is associated with the store Gymboree, and some might find the constant self-promotion off-putting, but it's a small distraction in a class that is popular with both kids and their grown-ups.
Parent comments about Gymboree
- "We did Gymboree for two years and Emma had three of her birthday parties there. I was amazed at how free and unafraid she was to play on her own and how much the teachers loved her and fostered her development. I also met other mom friends there that have continued to be a part of our lives years later." --Risa S., Skippack, PA
Don't let the fact that you haven't mastered Warrior Pose scare you away from Itsy-Bitsy Yoga. Rest assured: no yoga experience is required. The age range to get your Downward Dog on is 4 weeks to 4 years. For the youngest set, parents move their babies through a series of postures designed to calm and nurture. For older children, songs, games, and stories are used in conjunction with yoga poses. These classes are about movement; you won?t find any "ohms" here. For example, one of the most popular "poses" is Run Around Yogi, which is exactly what it sounds like--kids running around the room.
Parent comments about Itsy-Bitsy Yoga
- Itsy-Bitsy Yoga "really is laying the foundations of yoga for these little ones. Charlotte's balance is already improved, which blows me away, simply because we do tree pose, which is only because she now thinks it's fun! Today when I picked her up from daycare the first thing she said was, 'I want to go to yoga!'" --Magali, Arlington, MA
Getting moms back into shape is the priority of StrollerStrides, a program that incorporates the stroller into power walks interlaced with toning intervals. Classes can be started anytime after the mother's postpartum doctor visit and can continue for as long as the child is happy being in the stroller for an hour or so. Benefits are not just physical?research has shown that stroller-walking classes can help alleviate baby blues. While other caregivers are welcome to take the class, they might feel out of place among the new moms.
A broad range of classes for preschoolers is available at individual YMCAs, but the swimming and sports classes are what the Y is best known for. Starting at 6 months, tots and their grown-up caregivers can begin instruction in the pool. At the younger end, classes are primarily about water acclimation, with games and songs to work on skills such as kicking and blowing bubbles. For these classes, an adult must be with the child in the water at all times. Independent swim classes begin at age 3 and continue all the way up to the teen and adult years. Membership is generally not required to participate in classes, however, members pay lower class fees and, at many Ys, can take advantage of childcare and parents' nights out.
Parent comments about YMCA swimming instruction
- "My daughter went from being completely terrified of water at the start of the summer to swimming on her own with only a floatie by fall. We just didn't believe that it was possible for one class to get her so far. These days she will jump in the water get her head and face wet and seems to genuinely enjoy herself. The teachers are fantastic." --Jennifer L., Bedford, MA
The bottom line
When all is said and done, you can bask in the glory of your exceptional care giving when, years from now, your child fondly reminisces about how you sparked his interests at such a wee age. We'll never tell that you did it for the adult conversation.