By Whitney C. Harris
I’m a thrifty mama by nature. So when presented with the prospect of signing up for music, gym or swim classes with my toddler, I balked. Shell out my hard-earned cash for a half hour of fluff? I figured anything that was being taught or demonstrated at these kiddie classes I could easily do myself at home. Singalong with shaker instruments! Tumble and jump and run around in a safe environment! Get comfortable in the water and maybe even dunk your little one’s head under! Errr, in a bathtub or backyard plastic pool at least. At more than $25 a class, the investment just didn’t seem worth it, especially when there’s so much to save up for, like diapers and organic milk and college.
“If I want to meet other stay-at-home moms and their babies, I’ll just run into them at the library,” I kept telling myself, intent on staying out of the class scene and saving my pennies. Then, my daughter turned 1 and simultaneously I ran out of steam to entertain her all the time while realizing that I was not enough of a stimulating presence to meet her needs. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t sit around and twiddle my thumbs while having a staring contest with my child. We read books and listen to music and race cars and trucks across the hardwood floors. We practice making animal sounds and even bake muffins together. We’re around other children all the time too, on play dates and at playgrounds. But something about the class atmosphere with all the tots focused on the same goal and another (neutral) adult in charge, is good for both of us. It allows us to work together and also to give each other space at times. But, perhaps most importantly, it helps us bond.
When I first signed up my daughter for music and gym class, I never considered how they might bring us closer together, but the experiences we’ve had have helped us connect in new ways. Spending 45 uninterrupted minutes as a twosome – away from constant house chores and a frequently buzzing cell phone – does wonders for our shared state of mind. Plus, the structure and repetition give us a solid means of reference well beyond the class time. We recite songs from our Music Together Class on car rides and while waiting in checkout lines at the grocery store. My musical mini even finishes some of the rhyming lyrics, which thrills me to no end. At home, we do baby planks and play airplane on the living room carpet, just like we learned in our gym class. That’s actually where my daughter started to pick up some sign language. The gym class instructor signs her way through all of the exercises for all of the keenly observant children to watch and learn. When my daughter started to do the sign for “again” after we read her favorite book one evening, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Today, she signs all the time, asking for “water,” demanding “more” and saying “please,” all thanks to our gym teacher. It’s opened up a whole new world of communicating and understanding one another.
Classes are now the highlight of our week, and we’re both a little down whenever we skip a session for a holiday or when the semester finally comes to an end. I’m just glad we’ve discovered all there is to learn and discover and bond over beyond the four walls of our home.
Whitney C. Harris is a freelance writer living in Westchester, NY, with her husband and 18-month-old daughter. Find her at whitneycharris.com.