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This is an article I’ve written for a parenting magazine. It hasn’t yet been published so I’d be interested in your comments, and any advice would be gratefully received.
You’ve done it! You’ve given birth and your baby is thriving in his home environment. Your days are settling down and now you want to help your child’s social and physical development. If you are a first time mum it is also important that you build up a support network of other mums with young children. It is very easy to become isolated as your partner and friends continue with their working lives while you stay at home. So, where do you start?
A worthwhile place to visit is your local leisure centre. Check out swimming classes that you can join. Many are very popular so you may need to book in advance. Physical activity is good for your baby and swimming is something she can participate in from an early age, before she is really mobile on land. Of course she is also developing confidence in water and a range of skills that will stay with her for life. From around seven months your baby will delight in seeing other babies but will not play with them so swimming is ideal for satisfying their early social curiosity.
What The Parents Say: “I have taken Sophie swimming since she was 4 months old and she thinks it’s great. It’s amazing how her confidence in the water has grown after only a couple of months.” Jane and Sophie (6 months).
“Swimming is a good way to meet other mums. The babies are so entertaining in the water, it’s an immediate conversation ice breaker.” Carol and James (5 months). Swimming Cost: £2 - £3 Tip: Try to join a specific baby swimming class where a qualified instructor can give proper guidance.
Another facility your leisure centre may be able to offer is a crèche. This type of activity is beneficial for your child as he will play alongside other children and be given a little independence away from mum or dad. So there is no excuse for not being able to exercise. Join an aerobics class or go to the gym and get back into shape. See if your leisure centre has a Ladies (or Gents) morning where you may also be able to use a sauna or sun bed. It could be a great opportunity to get some much-needed relaxation. However, be warned, separation anxiety can become a problem from seven to eight months and your baby may not take too kindly to being left in this environment.
What The Parents Say: “I look forward to spending time on myself every Friday. After a hectic week, I drop Chloe off at the crèche and pamper myself in the sauna. Chloe loves all the different toys.” Julie and Chloe (11 months). “I needed to get back into shape after Jake, my third child, was born. I was relieved when I found out I could go to my step aerobics class and Jake could benefit by making friends at the crèche.” Sally and Jake (6 months).
Creche Cost: About £1 per hour per child Tip: See if your leisure centre will let you and your baby join the crèche for a couple of sessions before you leave him on his own. This helps your baby familiarise himself with the new surroundings which could alleviate any anxieties. Check that qualified nursery nurses supervise the crèche.
Your local library may become invaluable. Most libraries have a children’s area with toys to keep babies or toddlers occupied. Also ask if the library does story time for young children. If not, ask if you could start one.
By introducing your baby to libraries at an early age, you are opening up a whole new world for her. Story time will help her language acquisition, especially if the children get to join in. She will develop an interest in stories and books. Encourage this by borrowing books and tapes to share at home.
What The Parents Say: “Tiffany’s always begging me to take the books home after she’s heard them read in the library. It’s really good that she’s this enthusiastic about books – I just hope it lasts!” Jeff and Tiffany (3 years). “It was only when I took Daniel to story time at the library that I realised a neighbour of mine also had a son the same age. Now they are good friends and will soon be starting school together.” Anna and Daniel (4 years).
Library Cost: Free Tip: Enrol your child at the local library. Once she has a ticket, you will be informed of any baby events held there.
Research has shown even babies in the womb respond to music so later on in life you can understand their fascination with instruments and noise. What better way than to share the fun with other babies. From around six months your baby has mastered grabbing and you may notice he bangs objects on the table. He will have enjoyed playing with rattles for a while so utilise and extend these skills by taking him to a music class. Singing nursery rhymes and dancing to music encourages language development and rhythm.
What The Parents Say: “We have been coming to music class for about a year now and Amber loves doing the actions” Tim and Amber (18 months).
“George loves listening to all kinds of music and even asked for a drum for his birthday.” Paul and George (3 years).
“We have learnt so many new songs and Joseph loves performing them to his grandparents.” Annette and Joseph (2 years).
Music Cost: varies but expect to pay £3-£4 per session. Tip: Musical Minis is a national company with franchises nationwide. They aim to “help children’s development…through music.” Log on to their website at www.musicalminis.co.uk or contact their head office on 020 88680001 to find out where your nearest class is held. There is a membership fee of £7.50
Once your baby is crawling and more mobile, a well-structured gym class can be perfect for him to practise his new found skills. A class such as this enables him to be active in a safe environment while learning the capabilities of his own body.
What The Parents Say: “The perfect exercise for any toddler and the added bonus is that Peter already has friends he will start nursery with.” Sandra and Peter (3 years).
“The staff are great and even though Naomi is only 10 months old, she can take part in all the activities.” Vanessa and Naomi (10 months).
“Would you believe that through our gym class I met up with an old school friend I hadn’t seen for years? And our children, Niamh and Tori, get on like a house on fire.” Cassie and Niamh (16 months). Gym Cost: Varies but expect to pay under £5 per session. Tip: Tumble Tots have 450 centres nationwide for children aged 6 months – 7 years. Their philosophy is to develop “children’s physical and social skills in a positive laden environment.” Access their website at www.tumbletots.com or telephone them on 0121 5857003 to find your nearest class. There is a membership fee of £14.50.
Many towns have plenty of parent and toddler groups to choose from which gives your baby the chance to socialise and interact with other children and you the chance to meet other parents. Such groups give your child the opportunity to play with different toys and some may provide craft activities for her to try. Separation anxiety should not be a problem as you are close by and this can give shyer children more confidence in social situations.
What The Parents Say: “I have joined three different parent and toddler groups and each one is unique. Aidan is a very social baby and I’m convinced it’s because he mixes with other children on a regular basis.” Lorraine and Aidan (14 months).
“Phoebe enjoys the vast array of toys and I have really noticed her social skills coming along. This is especially important for her as she is an only child.” Gemma and Phoebe (20 months)
“Lewis and I really look forward to the group on a Thursday because it’s a social occasion for both of us. A small group of mums have even started going out in the evening once a month – a chance to talk without the children!” Sian and Lewis (2 years)
Parent and Toddler Groups
Cost: Usually free but you may be asked to make a small donation for tea and coffee. Tip: Look under Playgroups to find parent and toddler groups close to you. Also ask round at local churches as many hold their own groups during the week.
Where Can I Find Out More? The Yellow Pages or www.yell.com is an excellent starting place for finding out what activities and clubs are in your area. Your local library should have up-to-date information. Talk to your Health Visitor or other mothers at your baby clinic to find out what they would recommend. It is always worth skimming through your local free paper to see if anything new is starting up.
So go out and have fun with your new baby and remember after all this excitement, he may just want to sleep!
good op! i think all your advice is really good, i work in a childrens nursery, its good fun seeing them learn, its just a shame the parents don't get to see alot of it. but your suggestions are things parents and children can do together!
Groovee 26.07.2003 18:20
I liked this! I have 2 children and when i first had my 3 year old, I would have been stuck at what to do if I hadn't worked in a nursery before she was born! Love Louise