For stay-at-home dad Matt Helbing, the main goal of weekly parent-tot music classes is instilling his own love of music in his two young sons. But he admits that 3-year-old Henry and 1-year-old Theodore aren’t the only ones reaping benefits.
“Part of it is parental sanity,” Helbing laughs. “It’s a good break from the monotony of being alone.”
Lawrence parent-tot instructors say the gatherings, which range from art classes to gymnastics, have advantages for both parents and children.
Classes provide an opportunity to foster development in children who are too young to be dropped off at such classes alone, parents learn skills they can model at home, and parents and children bond by having fun together.
Not to mention that they can be a great place for parents to meet other parents.
Karen Abraham, who owns Meadowlark Music Together, said numerous parents, like Helbing, have been coming to her classes for years, bringing their second child just weeks after he or she was born.
Abraham’s goal is to engage in activities that help children from birth to age 5 (she offers a separate class for 5- to 7-year-olds) learn music by making it feel like play instead of work.
“Music is a lot like language,” Abraham said. “Because the earlier you get it, the easier it is.”
At a recent session, Abraham led a circle of sock-footed parents and children in sing-alongs with instruments from drums to maracas and movement from hand-waving to marching with the beat.
Some toddlers wandered in and out of the circle, others played instruments to their own beats.
And that’s OK, Abraham said. They’re learning and experimenting, and the play-like atmosphere is age-appropriate — though she draws the line at standing on benches or throwing instruments.
At Lawrence Gymnastics and Athletics, 5150 Clinton Parkway, the Bouncy Bees parent-tot gymnastics class is open to children from 1 to 3 years old.
Preschool gymnastics director Jalon Grogan said she took a similar class with her own children and that one is now a state-caliber high school gymnast. The other two employ the coordination and love of physical activity they grew up with in other athletic pursuits.
“It helps to be instilling a deep-seated idea that fitness is fun, being in a gym is fun,” Grogan said.
Even at a young age, children can benefit from exercises to develop core strength, balance and body awareness, Grogan said. At Bouncy Bees, they walk on the balance beam while parents hold or spot them, roll back and forth in a ball to work on core strength and jump on a trampoline to practice muscle control.
Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department offers parent-child swimming classes for children from 6 months to 3 years old. While the classes don’t make infants independent swimmers, they aim to get children comfortable with submerging and moving around in the water. The American Academy of Pediatrics formerly recommended swimming lessons for ages 4 and up, but in 2010 the group recommended that children as young as 1 year old take swimming lessons.
More than teaching music to children, Abraham said she aims to teach parents how to make music with their children. Having parents involved in the class — and taking what they learn home — is far better than simply turning on a CD or turning their child over to a music teacher.
“Children’s first and foremost teachers are their parents,” Abraham said.
Likewise at Bouncy Bees, instructors focus on parents being “exercise partners” for their children, from warm-ups and floor stretches through guided activities and open play time in the gym.
“It’s a real bonding activity, where the parents can work with their child as well as having a teacher there to assist them,” Grogan said.
For some parents, Grogan added, taking classes with their child is a helpful reminder that fitness and flexibility is important for them, too.
Brian Trigg, McLouth, said he and his wife take their 2-year-old daughter, Cleo, to a number of parent-child activities, including Meadowlark Music Together and Lawrence Arts Center’s Coloring Outside the Lines class for 2- to 3-year-olds.
While his wife is at work, Trigg, a Lawrence firefighter, is often available to take Cleo to daytime classes, such as a recent one at Meadowlark Music Together.
“It helps fill the morning, but also it’s helped her socialize and experiment with music and musical instruments,” Trigg said.
At the same class, Lawrence stay-at-home mom Lydia Leon sang and marched with her daughters Alia, 3, and Maya, 5 months.
Leon said she’s also participated in the arts center class and Baby Sing and Sign for infants and toddlers. Lawrence mom Erin Lawrence teaches Sing and Sign, which she says provides parents with a foundation for early language development.
Leon was looking for activities that were fun for her girls but also had structure that enabled them to learn. The Meadowlark Music Together and other parent-tot classes hit the mark.
“It’s just really interactive,” she said.