Back to School, With Mom and Baby
By: Pamela Brill
Freshly sharpened pencils, yellow school buses and shiny red apples…the signs of kids heading back to school are everywhere. And while kindergarten may seem like a long way off for your little one, it's never too early to expose her to a world filled with learning and discovery. To help you can make the most of your time together with your child, we explore a variety of classes for parents and babies, from storytime to stroller rides.
Hooked on Books
Your baby may barely be able to sit up—much less look at a book—so why bring her to the library? According to children's librarian Marie Drucker, introducing your child to books at an early age has tremendous advantages. "As the Nassau County Library System explains, when you talk, read and play with your child, you are building those vital connections in the brain," she says. "You may be surprised to learn that early literacy is many things: chewing on a board book, reading a story over and over, and recognizing a favorite picture book."
Libraries offer a variety of parent/child classes, even for babies as young as six months. At the Malverne Public Library in Malverne, N.Y., the Nursery Rhyme Time class includes circle time, a board book story and finger plays like "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." "Early childhood programs like these serve several purposes," says Drucker. "Parents get to interact with their babies, they can meet others who have children around the same age and we begin the first steps of early literacy: children listening to words."
Music to Their Ears
New parents can also cultivate a lifelong love of learning through music. "Children have an innate sense of rhythm developed in utero from the sounds of their mother's heartbeat and voice," says Kerry Anastasi, owner of Tumbling Tunes (www.tumblingtunes.com), which offers music and movement classes for babies through school aged-children in its East Northport, N.Y. location. "Music can be very soothing to children, especially if they are exposed to it at a young age," she adds.
In Tumbling Tunes' Music for Babies program, Anastasi varies the format to engage both parent and child participants. Class begins with a hello song, followed by finger play and musical instruments like maracas, egg shakers and wave drum to help develop fine motor skills and rhythm. "I like to have parents shake the instrument along their child's body parts, usually starting at the toes and working up to the heads, so babies can actually feel the rhythm in time with the song," she explains. Bubble blowing and parachute play wind down the class. "Babies can strengthen their eyesight by tracking the parachute's colorful circles as they float around them," says Anastasi. "The parachute is also a great tool to expose infants to the feel of a gentle breeze in a controlled environment."
]Just You and I
Another way for parents to interact with their child through a variety of developmental activities is Mommy and Me. Not only are these programs ideal for exposing your baby to age-appropriate activities, but they enable new parents to connect with one another. Heather Zachary Rogoff recently launched her own NYC-based program Swaddle Waddle (www.swaddlewaddle.com), which combines music, movement, flash cards, yoga, massage and socialization in one session. "As a new mom, I combined elements into the curriculum that I wish I had had all in one class," she explains. To appeal to parents' on-the-go schedules, her classes are offered on a drop-in basis, "so moms have the flexibility to come when it works for them," adds Rogoff.
And if you're the type of mom who needs to stay active, fitness-focused offerings like Stroller Strides (www.strollerstrides.com) are ideal for exercising with your baby. "Our workouts are geared to help women regain their strength and endurance," says owner Lisa Druxman, noting that most moms join once their babies are six weeks old and they have received their doctor's permission to exercise.
Incorporating fitness into stroller walking can result in positive long-term effects. "Many women who did not exercise previously or who ate poorly find themselves living healthy on a daily basis after joining our group," notes Druxman. "Exercise becomes a part of their lives that they and their kids look forward to."