One of the best things about parenting a baby or toddler is having an instant partner for fun! From tumble time to art adventures, there are plenty of new activities you can try together. And, if you play your cards right, you can even hang out with your baby while getting back into shape.
You can plan activities on your own to bond with your little one, but if you're not the DIY type, most communities offer organized "mommy and me" playgroups and classes. The local library, gym or zoo is a good place to start your search, but you can find notices on the bulletin board at your pediatrician's office and other places new parents frequent, as well as online. Most activities include a series of sessions; if you don't want to commit to a strict schedule, look for drop-in classes. You'll want to ask a few questions before you join, such as whether there are age limits for the class.
Whichever type of activity you choose, the benefits far outweigh the work of getting your little one bathed, dressed, fed and transported on time. Not only will the two of you bond (it's good to branch out from the closeness of 2 a.m. feedings), but you can network with other new moms. Plus, there's no better way to get the scoop on preschools or sleep strategies than from a few new friends with first-hand experience.
Exercising with your baby can give you an emotional and physical boost. And, thanks to stroller fitness, you don't need a gym membership, special equipment or a babysitter. These fitness sessions entail cocooning your little one in a jogging stroller for a self-powered workout that combines walking, flexibility and strength training.
Look for Strollercize, Stroller Strides, Baby Boot Camp, Stroller Fit or other locally launched programs designed for new moms. All target calorie-burning activities that strengthen and tone core muscles; some will incorporate strength training, such as lunges or push-ups. Most sessions last about an hour and are done outdoors, but some move indoors if the weather becomes too cold or hot.
Even though you'll get a good workout while pushing a stroller, there's no need to worry that your baby will get bored. Most stroller fitness sessions incorporate entertaining songs and games, too. Plus, your child learns the best lesson of all: Fitness should be a part of everyday life.
A swim class not only offers you a chance to burn some calories; it's good for baby, too. After all, basic water skills could someday save your child's life. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among children age 5 and younger. Putting your little guppy into the water could do more than offer a fun way to burn energy.
Most "mommy and me" sessions run in eight-week intervals, and involve being in the water with your child and an instructor. Babies as young as 8 weeks can enjoy water play, while toddlers nearing the 2-year mark can learn to swim as you stay in the water with them. In fact, some children learn to swim before they learn to walk.
As you and your child splash about, the face-to-face and skin-to-skin contact reinforces the connection your share -- and instills a lifelong association between exercise and fun.
You already know your baby loves music. After all, you've been singing lullabies and silly songs since he or she was born. What music does for a child's brain is simply astounding. It helps brain cells forge the new and lasting connections your child will need as she learns to read a book or reason a math problem.
Nearly every community has a music exploration class designed for children and parents to enjoy together. Most classes target a specific age, such as 6 to 18 months or 18 months to 2 years. During each session, children and parents make sounds using simple instruments and learn basic rhythms and sing-along tunes. Classes keep children moving, too, marching around the room or dancing to the beat. Kindermusik, Music Together or informal programs offered at local music stores all have one thing in common: They encourage children and parents to make music together -- in class and at home.
Tea with Me
Tea for two (or more) is a "mommy and me" activity sure to be filled with memories in the making. It's also a great way to instill proper table manners using a means that's nothing but fun.
You can host your own tea party at home. If you don't have a tea set of your own, you can pick one up at a secondhand store for just a few dollars. Of course, you'll need tea, cream and sugar (you can even serve lemonade if it's more appealing to tiny taste buds). For scrumptious fare, offer a few dainty, bite-sized sandwiches on a tiered tray. Or, plate a few scones to serve with fruit and whipped cream. And, be sure to invite your child's favorite stuffed animals to your tête-à-tête.
If you'd like to host a child-friendly high tea in an actual tea room, there's probably one in your community. They range from the famous (New York City's The Russian Tea Room) to the infamous (The Dunbar Tea Shop in Sandwich, Mass., near the actual site of the Boston Tea Party). To find one near you, try a tea room finder, like TeaMap.com.
Any mom who longs for an uninterrupted high-calorie cup of anything in the local coffee house will agree: It's good to have an outlet. So why not do the same for your child? A little "mommy and me" time at a child-safe gym can go a long way. Check with the local YWCA, YMCA or gymnastics academy for family activities, or find a Gymboree Play & Learn class. Whatever the brand, the best classes follow a child's lead in exploring the way their bodies tumble and move, while introducing a few basic tumbling or gymnastic moves.
One thing's for sure: The play-based activities offer benefits that range beyond the cardiovascular; freedom of movement activities are sensory-stimulating, problem-solving, esteem-boosting powerhouses. Plus, your energetic baby or toddler will sleep better after a bout of bouncing off the walls (and everything else). What's not to love?
"Every child is an artist," said Pablo Picasso. For parents with refrigerator doors covered in colorful renderings, few sentiments ring as true. So why not encourage your child to embrace the experience of creation by offering the tools they need to create? Along with a home kit of finger paints, crayons and plenty of paper, consider a class offered to parents and children through a local art museum or library.
The process is what's important, not the end result. Still, the outcomes are often impressive -- especially because they include better self-esteem, problem-solving and social skills. Augment the classes with a field trip to a local art museum. Many art museums have areas specially designed for children to try hands-on activities and art-related play. The Art Institute of Chicago, for example, has a permanent installation of sculptures children can explore with their hands. And the Joslyn Art Museum of Omaha, Neb., doesn't dodge young visitors' most frequent question: "Why are there naked people in art?" Instead, the museum offers free cards to help families locate and talk about related artwork.
Zoo for Two
Who doesn't love the zoo? You and your child can while away the hours watching animals on your own, or you can join a class for some organized fun. Most zoos offer a take on the "mommy and me" theme with sessions designed for toddlers (or preschoolers) and a parent. Along with guided tours, most zoos offer an up-close encounter with an animal, and other hands-on activities. Expect each session to center on a theme, take an hour or two, and cost less for members than non-members.
Not only will your child learn about animals from around the world, but you can turn your outing into days of fun. Check out zoo-related activities from the Smithsonian during the days leading up to your zoo adventure. The site shares facts about different species (did you know a lion's roar can be heard up to five miles away?), photo galleries and games. Have your child choose an animal to search for during your zoo visit.
Kids in the Kitchen
Most kids clamber to help in the kitchen, so take them up on the offer. A tiny chef hat and apron will help any toddler play the part. Then, turn over a few ingredients to your diminutive assistant for some hands-on creation. Sandwiches are a good place to start and it's fun to pile on the layers. Or, have your child master the art of buttering toast (top it with a little cinnamon sugar for fun). He or she can work up to hand-mixing ingredients for muffins or quick breads. Other muscle-building kitchen activities include shucking corn or snapping green beans. The best part is that the more your child cooks, the more likely he is to try new fare. Plus, cooking up a batch of healthy foods offers a far better lesson than simply buzzing through the drive-thru.
Of course, having your child help in the kitchen can involve playtime, too. Very young children like to get their hands wet "washing" plastic cups or playing with bubbles in the sink. Add a measuring cup to the mix and you can work in an elementary math lesson, too.
Between the Lines
Babies and toddlers love books, so tap into this natural affinity. Try out the story time at your local bookstore or library. Some storytellers are more animated than others (and some even use puppets or stuffed animals to help tell the tale), so be sure to go to more than one session -- even if your child didn't sit still the first time. It may help to bring a small tote with crayons and drawing paper for your child to work on as the story unfolds. Remember, the idea isn't only to expose your child to a story; you're teaching your child to enjoy books (and the library or bookstore) as a whole.
Head out early so your child's not in "hurry-up-and-wait" mode as story time nears (it can be too hard to switch gears on such short notice). Plus, you'll have time to pick out a few extra books to read on your own.
Crafting not only keeps children engaged, but also encourages fine motor skills, problem solving and nurtures a host of other creative behaviors. You can use craft projects to foster little imaginations -- while introducing pre-reading and math skills. It's no wonder more than half of U.S. households report completing some kind of craft project in 2009, according to the Craft & Hobby Association.
If you'd like to join a "mommy and me" craft group, check out the local YWCA, recreation center or craft store. Retailers such as Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores frequently host demonstrations and classes designed for children and adults. Whether your child's favorite activity is stringing beads, sculpting clay or sewing with yarn, you're sure to find a way to enjoy it together. After all, that's the point of "mommy and me" activities.
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