In my son's class at Little Gym, each week there's a new skill for the kids to master. For example, on one recent day, it was: Stand on a purple square, do a forward roll and kick up your legs like a donkey. My son scrambled off into the fray, exploring the parallel bars, balance beam and mats. As class moved toward the end, he shot baskets, chased bubbles and waited his turn for the requisite rubber stamp that meant "goodbye."
Parents looking for 0-to-2 movement or fitness classes can take their pick: gym-style play classes, movement with music, dance or gymnastics, and even soccer. These classes can contribute to an infant or toddler's well-being in many ways, offering bonding with babies, places for tots to test their limbs and safe, all-weather spaces. Here are some of the options:
When a tot approaches a stair for the first time, she's using "motor planning" skills to figure it out. Gymboree play classes, which start from 0 to 6 months and go up to age 5, help kids navigate their world, says Annie Haefner, a Gymboree program coordinator.
Parent education and discussion plays an important role in the Babies classes, Haefner says. Teachers explain the benefit of each activity, whether it's an infant massage to the tune of "Come along and play with me," or shaking a maraca.
After Babies, children 6 to 14 months are Gym Crawlers, exploring equipment with various textures, colors or ramps until they join Walkers (10 to 18 months) or Runners (14 to 28 months).
"It's very stimulating," Haefner says. "It's good development and great for the parents to get out after having a new baby."
Dana Siudzinski, program director at Little Gym of Bellevue, says the introductory gymnastics classes strengthen kids' bodies and a can-do spirit. For the littlest ones, "it's a lot of music, movement, incorporating motor skills, social interaction," Siudzinski says.
At all levels, instructors teach safety skills parents can apply in the gym and at home. In Bugs class (4 to 10 months), parents learn different carrying positions to strengthen baby's neck and back. At 10 months, a child can begin to hang from a bar. In Birds (10 to 19 months), instructors show parents how to support a tot's first steps by holding his elbows or upper torso. "You learn how to not just spot them, but spot them safely," Siudzinski says.
Little Gym aims to develop kids' confidence, she adds. "You want them to feel successful no matter what."
Soccer for tots develops a child's dexterity while connecting parents and kids, says Seth Taylor, an instructor with Little Kickers, which has five indoor soccer arenas in the Puget Sound area. "We designed the program on psychology more than soccer," Taylor says. "The main benefit is coordination."
In the 40-minute Bunnies class (18 to 24 months), kids learn how to walk backward and stomp on bubbles, activities designed to promote foot-eye coordination. In Thumpers (2 to 3), the routine changes slightly each session, and the kids spend more time kicking the soccer ball. Designed to be non-competitive, the program encourages kids to have fun at their own pace, Taylor says. "Kids tend to have their own engines and rev their own development."
Movement with Your Toddler
When children swing their arms like an elephant's trunk or dress up in costumes, it's not just child's play, says Shawn Hensley, who teaches Movement with Your Toddler classes at Seattle's Spectrum Dance Theater. "Crawling really does develop their brain," Hensley says, so the instructor includes cross-motion or tummy-based movement such as snake-like slithering.
In Hensley's view, the class also deepens the parent-child bond by giving parents more tools to work with and ways to play with their kids. Overall, the class dovetails with the child's development. "Kids move," Hensley says. "They love music and they love games and imaginative play, and it's all incorporated into their learning."
Where to find kid-fitness classes, a sampling of parent-child movement classes:
1175 N.W. Gilman Blvd., Suite B-11, Issaquah
(More locations in Sandpoint/Magnuson Park Community Center, Redmond Town Center and in Ballard)
13425 SE 30th St # A, Bellevue
(Other locations in Issaquah and Woodinville)
(Five arenas in Puget Sound area: Tacoma, Woodinville, Redmond, Magnuson Park, south Seattle)
Spectrum Dance Theater
800 Lake Washington Blvd, Seattle
Michelle Feder writes about a wide range of subjects and has a 2-year-old son