According to experts it’s never too early to encourage a baby’s development and learning. Babies and toddlers learn through play and repetition and develop essential skills in a social play setting that will be important to them as they grow. Every week parents across Ireland are flocking to their local sensory/ music/ movement classes and finding out that not only are their littles ones gaining critical skills, it’s proving to be a sanctuary for parents too! It’s a place where they can find their tribe and that much needed support, all while enjoying quality coffee and a chat.
We popped along to Kidspace Playcentres based in Rathcoole and Rathfarnham, Co Dublin to meet the owners and experience some of the classes for ourselves. The centres which are run by childcare experts (and parents!) Claire Doyle and Tracy Sheridan have been designed with the overall experience for both parents and child at the forefront of everything they do. For example they have water stations, and baby stations where you can heat bottles and warm babies food. We were impressed by The Nest Café in both locations which serves quality food and drinks. They also have monitors where you can keep an eye on the older kids in the playframe. Kidspace Rathcoole also boosts a private feeding room which is a little oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the playcentre. It’s fully stocked with all the essentials such as wipes, nappies and fresh water.
“Our baby and toddler mornings are a huge part of what we offer,” founder Claire Doyle told us. “As parents ourselves we know how valuable these sessions are for both little ones and their parents. We work with quality providers such as SenseAble Tots, Baby Rave, Baby Beats, Stretch ‘n’ Grow and Mucky Picnic to offer a variety of sessions from messy play, to sensory classes, to music and movement. Our monthly passes mean that people can drop in and out of different classes whenever suits then and there’s no need to pre-book as we know how unpredictable life with babies can be.”
For parents, it means that there is a new theme each week for little ones to discover and they are leaning skills such as problem solving, action vs reaction and social interaction in an informal setting where they aren’t afraid to fail and try again. Whether you prefer sensory messy play, music or movements classes there’s lots of options out there throughout Ireland to suit everyone.
“Children learn by using their senses,” Karen Anderson from SenseAble Tots Sensory said. “Not only do they learn about the world about them but by examining and manipulating sensory materials, they strengthen their fine motor skills, hand-to-eye coordination, hand dexterity and are introduced to maths concepts and language in a fun playful way.
“Little ones also learn behavioural norms from being in this social group and they are motivated to try new things and learn skills by seeing other children in the class. You can start sensory activities with your child at home from the moment they are born. Sing and talk to them. Show them various shapes and let them touch different textures. Follow your child’s lead to see what they are interested in and try to
incorporate that into a fun play activity. For instance, if your child loves diggers then put some diggers into a tub of rice.”
For Carla Roberts, Founder and Creator of Baby Rave it’s all about the community that is built through the shared experience of movement with others. “Studies have even shown that exposing your baby to music can speed up the process of them learning to speak and help your baby master complex language concepts faster. There are emotional and social benefits of movement in a group setting from a young age such as improved sensitivity, understanding, appreciation, and consideration for others,” Carla said.
“Over time little ones learn and master new moves and skills through the dance moves they learn at Baby Rave and in turn it promotes high self-esteem and improves confidence. The long term physical benefits include improved cardiorespiratory fitness, building strong bones and muscles, controlling weight and
reducing symptoms of anxiety.”
“Oxytocin (our happy hormone) which can help strengthen the bond with loved ones can be released through touch, music and exercise – all the components of a Baby Rave class. Our Cortisol hormone that contributes to stress, is decreased in the brain when people dance, sing and play together – especially in a group setting. You’ll notice in a Baby Rave class the class structure of the session remains the same so not only will baby have fun in these surroundings, but the music and movement will also create a sense of predictability. This is because after hearing a song repeatedly, children will begin to know what to expect, when to dance and how to sing along.
“Children have a superpower to bring so much joy to anyone they meet. More often than not after attending Baby Rave, children will request an at home Baby Rave that gets everyone in the household involved – this is particularly common in children who attended Baby Rave that may look like they are not taking part in the class however they are taking it all in!, Carla said.”
As well as movement, it’s a well-known fact that babies can benefit from music from the moment they are born – and even before this time, whilst still in the womb.
Rossagh Cusack from Baby Beats, music and sensory play class told us of the importance of music for little ones. “Music is a great tool for connecting with babies. Just think of the benefits of a soothing lullaby to calm a newborn. From approximately 4 months old babies will love songs that involve seeing familiar faces and making funny sounds and movements which is always entertaining. ‘Round & Round The Garden’ on little hands or tummies is usually a great way to encourage those first giggles.
“Young babies in your lap love swaying and moving in time to the music and sounds, whilst toddlers love the sing-song phrases and movement of classic ‘action songs’. Feeling and understanding emotions through singing and nursery rhymes is a great way to build your child’s social and emotional skills. Attending a music group with your baby is also a lovely way to develop the parent-child connection as babies engage more when they are sung to, rather than when listening to or watching music videos.”
It doesn’t just make babies feel safe and secure they are also learning! “Babies will also be exposed to life-skills such as understanding social cues and taking turns which will benefit them as they grow,” Rossagh said. “Simple nursery rhymes and songs like ‘Old MacDonald’ and ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ are not only great fun for babies to enjoy listening to, but they are also exposing them to the rhythm of language – in the sounds, patterns and phrases of the songs – encouraging language development. Action songs like ‘If You’re Happy & You Know It’ are great for encouraging co-ordination, balance and listening skills, especially in toddlers.”
At Baby Beats they combine music & sensory play so that the babies and toddlers can get as many benefits as possible within the session including language & literary skills, hand-eye co-ordination, balance, listening and following direction, self-expression and confidence, gross and fine motor skills to name but a few!
“Life with little ones can be so busy, especially with older siblings and all of their activities, so taking your baby or toddler to a music class can be a great way to spend some focused time together whilst encouraging an early appreciation formusic, Rossagh continued. “Engaging with your baby on your lap or getting down on the floor with them to show them the actions can be such an enjoyable experience for both parent and baby. Let’s not forget that parenting small children can often be quite lonely, so attending a music class where you can grab a coffee and meet other parents who can relate, can be a real lifeline!”