by Jamie Siebrase
When I signed up for a parent-tot class six years ago, I was just trying to figure this whole mom thing out. I selected a movement-based class at Belly Bliss in Denver, and we stretched, danced, and played under the instruction of Rebecca Kanov, who was relatively new to the mom-kid scene at the time, too.
While exploring this incredible world with my son once a week, I got to put aside the overwhelming day-to-day tasks, and focus solely on my child. And I got to connect with other moms, too, during an isolating season of my life.
Standout parent-tot curriculum offers more than a time to get out of the house—it connects parents with experts, offering up educational and social benefits for both parents and children. “A good program serves as an educational resource,” says Lauren Williams, founder and owner of Belly Bliss.
What to Expect
Parent-toddler classes will vary, of course, by theme, but “most classes follow a basic rhythm,” says Ivy Binder, owner of Rocky Mountain Aardvarks. Here’s what you can expect.
A welcome ritual. Binder’s Aardvarks classes kick off with a hello song featuring first name introductions. At Great Play of Cherry Creek, 50-minute sessions open with circle time, as participants wave to the gym mascot, Buddy, and introduce themselves. Kanov, who is now the owner of Arts & Minds, starts smaller, with “waking up movements” such as massage or yoga, to connect moms and dads with their kiddos.
Fine and gross motor activities. After the warm-up, expect a series of planned activities centered on developing your child’s fine and gross motor skills. After experimenting with musical instruments, yoga poses, or a craft, children and caregivers might be asked to try large-scale sensory movements, such as parachute play or an obstacle course. Don’t be surprised if your instructor has built-in time for breakout dance sessions, jamming, and explorative play.
“Typically,” Binder says, “an instructor leads class, but expects parents and caregivers to get involved.” If the thought of unstructured dancing intimidates you, you aren’t alone. Talk to your teacher beforehand, to get a sense of their philosophies and programming; if you feel comfortable, your child is more likely to feel comfortable and confident, too.
“You don’t have to have experience as a professional dancer to participate,” Kanov says. “Anything goes, and there’s no expectation for how to participate.”
Wind-down activities. When playtime is over, parent-tot sessions typically end with a mellow activity: Massage, lullabies, and cuddling allow kiddos to become centered in their bodies, and foster serious parent-child connectivity, too.
Don’t sweat it if your toddler acts up during class. “We always tell moms not to worry,” says Williams. “Your toddler might need a moment outside; you might have to stop to breast or bottle-feed your baby. That’s okay.”
Keep in mind that young children learn through observation; even if your child doesn’t actively participate the way you’d anticipated, he or she is likely getting something out of the class. Beyond a positive, carefree attitude, there’s little else you’ll need to bring to a parent-tot class.
Benefits for Your Child
For toddlers, one-on-one time with a parent is perhaps the most apparent advantage. “This is a time when you can be one hundred percent focused on your child,” Williams says.
Other gains are realized over time. Music education, for example, has been shown to bolster language skills and vocabulary in nonverbal toddlers, and enhance literacy down the road. Some researchers believe cross-body movements such as skipping help children learn to read, and early childhood art education has been linked to improved academic performance.
Parent-toddler classes rooted in fitness give young participants an opportunity to improve their motor skills. Great Play of Cherry Creek’s active classes, for example, where the focuses are “stability, manipulative, and locomotive skills,” strive to teach lifelong skills in a fun environment, according to Laura L’Herault, owner of Great Play Cherry Creek.
“You might not realize it, but learning to catch a balloon is one of those lifelong skills,” L’Herault continues. Seemingly simple movements—running, jumping, swinging, climbing, and balancing—give children an advantage in the classroom and on the sports field. Mastering new skills also boosts self-esteem—another trait that’ll stick with your child into adulthood.
When analyzing parent-child programming, experts point to qualitative advantages, too. “Sensory work helps define boundaries, which give kids a sense of feeling safe and contained,” Kanov explains, before noting that massage makes children feel supported. Parent-tot classes impart soft skills such as sharing, listening, and getting along well with others. Through the socialization inherent in group-style classes, kids “learn to wait and to take turns,” says L’Herault.
In fact, “kids who aren’t in daycare or preschool yet learn what it’s like to work in a classroom setting,” adds Williams. “They learn there’s a rhythm, and what classroom expectations might be.” This explains why research indicates toddlers have an easier time transitioning to preschool when they’ve attended parent-toddler classes.
Benefits For Parents
Engaged parents will reap plenty of benefits, too. For starters, Binder says, “you’ll learn how to play with your child.” In addition, “these classes give parents a framework; they give parents ideas for how to pick up on what interests a child,” adds Kanov.
Adult participants stand to gain a deeper understanding of their child's developmental stages—and that comprehension can foster closeness. “Parent-toddler classes give parents information about what their nonverbal child is experiencing,” Kanov clarifies. Your child can’t tell you what he or she is feeling yet, but Kanov says, “by moving with them, you experience how they’re feeling.”
Binder says that most instructors encourage parents to interact with each other, too. Parents, then, have a rare chance to build up a support system in a community of like-minded people. In fact, when Williams founded Belly Bliss, “we were looking for a place where parents could come together and get the resources they needed at the time of pregnancy and early parenting,” she says. “Kids classes have been a great resource, and the most rewarding part, for me, is seeing moms and dads connect in class.”
From personal experience, when I joined that first Belly Bliss class with my child six years ago, something unexpected happened. I ended up becoming close friends with another mom who was new to parenthood, too—and that friendship is strong to this day. Our kids are at different stages now, and our parenting challenges have shifted, but we’re still connected as we navigate this parenting journey together.
Jamie Siebrase is a Denver-based freelance writer and mother.
Classes Around Denver
You don’t have to tell us twice: It’s challenging to get out of the house with a baby or toddler in tow—especially during frosty Colorado winters. Scheduling a few activities is the first step toward getting mobilized, and the good news is there is no shortage of local parent-tot programming in the Denver metro area. Most of these places let guests try their first class for free.
Parent and Toddler Yoga at Mudra Yoga Studio
Parent and Toddler Yoga and Family Yoga at Belly Bliss
Toddler & Me Yoga and Family Yoga at the mama’hood
Music and Dance
Rocky Mountain Aardvarks Music Classes
Music Playtime at Belly Bliss
Music Together Classes, offered at Mile High Music, Twinkle Together, and Tiny Treble Makers
Little Swallows Classes at Swallow Hill Music School
Music II and Family Music Classes at Gymboree
Family Song Music at the mama’hood
Nurturing Pathways Dance Classes for Toddlers at Inside Out Creative Movement
Parent/Tot Class at Lakewood Dance Academy
SPARK Art classes at artSPARK Creative Studio
Art II and Family Art Classes at Gymboree
Art Class and Craft Time at Arts & Minds
Create with Me and Wiggle It Art at Lalu
Create Playdate at the Denver Art Museum
Parent/Toddler Classes at Dardano’s School of Gymnastics
Learn Gymnastics at DU’s Ritchie Center
Parent & Tot Class at TIGAR (The International Gymnastics Academy of the Rockies)
Motor, Sport and Fitness Classes at Great Play of Cherry Creek
Parent/Child Swim Lessons at YMCA of Metropolitan Denver
Parent-N-Me Lessons at SafeSplash Swim School
Parent-Child Swim Lessons at Denver Parks & Recreation
Baby & Me Class at The Swim School of Denver
Multi-Disciplinary and Miscellaneous
Play + Explore at Belly Bliss
Move and Learn Parent/Tot Classes at JCC Denver
Mommy Meet-Up at Arts & Minds
Gymboree Play & Learn Classes
Spanish Playtime at the mama’hood
Signing Smart Play Classes
(various locations in Denver)
Tales ‘N Tunes at Tales ’N Tunes LLC
Family Physics for all ages at Denver Museum of Nature & Science
Storytimes at Denver Public Library
Parent-Tot Class at Washington Park Early Learning Center
Small Settlers at Four Mile Historic Park