By Nancy Ripton, co-founder of JustTheFactsBaby.com
Turns out, socialization is just one of the benefits of infant classes. A recent study by the Institute of Child Care Research at Queen’s University Belfast found that control of social attention — the ability to disengage and distribute interest — starts around three months of age. From that point, babies can learn from a variety of interactive experiences.
What can you expect from parent and baby classes? Here’s what three popular formats have to offer you and your little one.
Infant massage is the best class choice for newborns. Courses start at birth and continue until about six months of age (there are also advanced courses for children who can crawl/walk). The benefits for baby are endless. Positive skin-to-skin touch tells your baby’s brain to release digestive hormones such as insulin. “So even if there is no change in diet, a newborn will gain significantly more weight when massaged regularly,” says Jill Vyse of Ottawa, founder of the Infant Massage Canada program. Massage also relaxes babies and decreases circulating stress hormones such as cortisol. The result is most often longer and deeper sleep.
Regular touch for just 10 minutes a day is also developmentally beneficial. “Massage allows a baby to be more attuned to external stimuli such as the parent’s face, voice and hands during the massage,” says Vyse. Plus, as parents we learn to follow our babies’ cues through massage, making us better able to respond to their needs.
Music classes are a great way to expose your baby to a wide range of sounds and songs at an early age. A class setting is best once your little one shows an interest in movement even in the early months and it will encourage your baby to emulate other babies. “There is a transfer of emotion,” says Mary Stouffer, an instructor specializing in early music education with The Royal Conservatory in Mississauga, Ont. When your child sees an older baby laughing and having fun, she’ll likely mimic the same response. And according to researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., the rhythmic experience of rocking and singing affects not only a baby’s emotional state but influences her sensory development as well.
As for class format, there should be playful activities, safe instruments and familiar songs that are sung week after week. Babies also respond to higher pitched voices. That’s why we naturally raise our voices when talking to young children. “Kids have shorter vocal cords and higher sounds are easier for them to emulate once they learn to speak,” says Stouffer. Look for an enthusiastic instructor that sings in a higher key.
“We tend to keep our babies containerized for most of the day,” says Doreen Bolhuis, founder of GymTrix, a DVD program that encourages physical literacy for kids six months and up. Babies used to spend a large portion of their day on a blanket on the floor. Now they’re snapped into car seats, strollers, exersaucers, high chairs and bouncy chairs. “We’re unknowingly teaching a sedentary lifestyle from birth,” says Bolhuis.
Once your child is sitting and showing an interest in movement, classes are a great way to enhance physical learning. “We read to babies from an early age because we want to teach them about literacy,” says Bolhuis. “We have to be equally intentional with physical literacy. Don’t just throw toys on the floor and hope your child will figure it out.”
Developmentally appropriate movement can help teach children about play, body control and social interaction. They can also teach you what your baby is physically capable of at each stage of development. Movement classes in the first years of life should be about fun and play with exploration of every kind of movement, giving your child a positive association with physical activity plus some bonding time with parent and baby. Shy away from any program that promises sports specialization at an early age.
Recall on toys, joggers, bassinets and coffee makers; minor injuries...