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Today's Family Magazine

Fun-filled classes for babies and caregivers

By Deanna Adams

New parents are always anxious to see their child learn something new, and it can start soon after the baby’s birth. Even at the infant stage, babies are responsive and receptive learners. With a special grown-up on deck to guide and nurture, a child can learn a wide range of activities and grow intellectually and physically at a rapid rate.

If you’re anxious to find fun, interactive activities that you can do with your baby, as well as adventures your child can enjoy on their own, there are several companies in Northeast Ohio that offer an array of programs and classes to get your child off to a creative and cerebral start in life.

Thrive Arts Center
Music has been proven to be the best way to stimulate brain development in children and give them a strong foundation to grow and thrive.  The Thrive Arts Center, located in Beachwood, offers classes in Kindermusik, as well as dance, art, instruments and voice. 

“We like to get children started with Kindermusik,” says owner and director, Cathy Huser.  “The overall value and purpose of Kindermusik is amazing for the development of any child.  Music is therapeutic by nature, it enhances the development of the brain, body and soul.”

Studies have shown that music helps unlock a child's creativity, intelligence and potential.  And Kindermusik is known to be a “perfect mix of imaginative play, joyful moments, and musical exploration,” and offers a great musical and developmental head start for the child.

“Babies are wired for music,” Huser adds.  “Kindermusik uses music-and-movements activities, which opens even small children up to language, cognitive and social development.”

The classes are age appropriate, designed for specific age groups, though not always chronologically, but developmentally centered.  All of the instructors are skilled and experienced Kindermusik educators who specialize in early childhood development.

There are four levels of Kindermusik, with the first three specifically designed for babies and toddlers.

Kindermusik Foundation is designed for infants to 1½ years of age, and conducted in a sensory-rich environment, complete with music and baby-style fun-filled movement. This class helps build social connections for you and your baby through the joys of musical learning.

Kindermusik Level 1, for toddlers, 1 to 2 years old, is a good introduction to basic musical concepts that provide the child with a growing ability to recognize and follow patterns in music.  Activities join parents and babies together to sing, play and move to music using brightly colored scarves, hoops, mirrors, and jingling bells.

Kindermusik Level 2, for children ages 1½ to 3½, engages the child in upbeat songs and chants that help develop the child’s vocabulary.  The “Stop-and-Go” games join bouncy bodies with singing and playful interactions.  Every Level 2 class includes creative movement activities designed to help your child develop a strong sense of rhythm, increased vocabulary, and a joyful self-expression.

A Kindermusik Kit, which includes a special child-safe musical instrument, activity book, two CDs of class music, and board book, is available for an additional cost of $70 for parents who want to continue the fun and learning at home.

In addition to Kindermusik, there are art classes for children, starting at 18 months.  “Art Beginnings” includes fun activities that combines play with color and textures, for babies up to three years old, accompanied by a parent or caregiver.  “Art classes are great for eye and hand coordinating,” Huser notes.   “And it’s very relaxing for a child.”

Check their website for the School Year Foundations Schedule to find a class on a day and time that best suits you.  Huser encourages all caregivers to stop in and attend an introductory class.  Tuition is for 17 classes with an enrollment fee of $20.  Enrolling after the start of the school year will prorate your tuition.

Fine Arts Association
The Fine Arts Association (FAA) in Willoughby, has been offering a variety of classes and programs under the arts umbrella since its inception in 1957.  Its mission is to enhance lives through arts education, therapies, performance, community partnerships and advocacy.  This full-service art center offers students, pre-K through senior citizens, an array of enriching arts and educational experiences including needs-based scholarships, discounted rates for student and senior citizen groups, and free performances and events.

It can all start at the infant stage with the Munchkin & Me program. These classes, which are four-week sessions, are specifically designed for small children who are not yet potty-trained, and not quite ready for an independent class.  Caregivers are encouraged to bring in their child to the Music Makin’ classes, which are perfect for infants up to age 5.  These classes are great fun for you and your child to enjoy a myriad of various activities that include song, dance, playing age-appropriate instruments, and stimulating the senses.  The four-week sessions cost $53 for the spring class that begins in April.

“As a music therapist and mom of two children with a rare genetic illness, I know firsthand how powerful music is for all little ones,” says Ann Marie Raddell, creative arts therapies coordinator at FAA.  “It’s also important for children and parents to interact and learn new things together, and music is a perfect way to start.”

The Nursery Rhyme Time is for little ones ages 2 to 4, accompanied by an adult . This class explores familiar nursery rhymes through music and art experiences, combining one-half hour of art with one-half hour of music each week.  This, too, is a four-week class. The current fee is $46 and the spring class begins in April. 

“For instance, we’ll sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and then do an outer space theme where they’ll make a project with planets and stars,” Raddell says.  “So it all ties together, and they’re having lots of fun while learning.” She adds that she often collaborates with visual arts teacher, Melissa Sexstella.

At Fine Arts, it’s all about providing a family-centered, safe, creative environment where students can experience the arts in their own very personal way.  Raddell works closely with parents and caregivers to develop goals based on the individual’s physical, behavioral, social, emotional, cognitive, language and communication needs.

The Little Gym
The Little Gym of Shaker Heights offers a wide range of activities for kids, including parent/child classes, kids dance, gymnastics, and other sports skills.  The unique programs revolve around active play but also complement and enhance the traditional school experience that can begin with babies just 4 months old, and continue on through 12 years of age.

“We’re not just a gym, we consider ourselves an enrichment program where a child can learn physical activities along with educational activities,” says owner Paula Pascarella.  “When my sons were little, I was looking for programs for them that would be fun and help them with their development.  I discovered this franchise and was so impressed. What differentiates Little Gym from others is that there are experts in the field, such as pediatricians and psychologists, whose knowledge goes into every lesson plan, and every level of development.”

The Little Gym gives children a safe and inspiring space to direct their energy, build confidence, and develop key skills. Pascarella encourages parents to start their children as soon as possible.  “Even at 4 months, there are benefits to taking them to programs such as our Perfect Start program, for ages 4 months up to three years of age.  The classes promote early development and provide a strong foundation by helping them learn the skills correctly and gives a child more confidence.”

Parents are required and encouraged to be actively involved in the program with their baby and toddler.  The Little Gym defines the classes in three categories: Get Moving encourages a child to just enjoy being a kid through active play.  Brain Boost offers ways to help nurture the child’s growing brain, such as color recognition and language development.  Citizen Kid encourages the varying degrees of healthy living, both independently and socially.

Tuition plans start at $22 per class and you can begin at anytime. 

“We really are like a family here,” says Pascarella, whose youngest son is currently the gym director.  “We get to know the parents very well and many continue here for years because they bring in their third and fourth child.  Our goal is always what’s best for each individual child.  We strive to create an environment that opens them up to a world of learning so they can grow and learn in a safe, comfortable environment - all the while having tons of fun!”

Lake County YMCA
The YMCA is a nonprofit organization committed to helping people thrive at each stage of life.  As one of the largest community-based organizations in the country, the Y owns or manages over 2,000 pools.  They offer swim lessons for infants and children, teenagers, and adults.

“I feel that teaching children how to be safe around water is not a luxury, it is a necessity,” says Kelly Penzenik, YMCA marketing manager.  “Drowning can happen nearly anywhere with standing water.  But, as a parent or caregiver, you can’t keep your children sidelined.  You need to equip them with the tools they need to be confident in and around water.”

The swim classes begin with Gym & Swim, a one-hour class (25 minutes of gym followed by 30 minutes of swim) for ages 6 months to 3 years.  It includes Water Discovery and Water Exploration.  Water Discovery introduces infants and toddlers to the aquatic environment through exploration and encourages them to enjoy themselves while learning about the water.  The Water Exploration class helps parents work with their child to explore body positions, floating, blowing bubbles, and fundamental safety and aquatic skills.

“The YMCA’s swim lesson program helps make sure today's youth learn essential water safety skills, which can open up a world of possibilities for them to satisfy their curiosity of water safely,” says Penzenik.  “The Y is 'America’s Swim Instructor' and the most accessible community resource to prevent drowning and encourage a lifelong enjoyment of swimming.  Each year, the Y teaches more than one million children invaluable water safety and swimming skills.”

Thrive Arts Center
23600 Commerce Park, Beachwood
(216) 991-1063

The Fine Arts Association
38660 Mentor Avenue,Willoughby
(440) 951-7500

The Little Gym
20707 Chagrin Blvd Shaker Heights
(216) 752-9049

Lake County YMCA