Has ‘join a local baby & toddler group’ been on your ever-growing to-do list for a while? Are you unsure if it’s your kind of thing? Don’t worry. I’ve been there too.
Oh how I remember pre-baby me declaring, ‘You’ll never catch me sitting cross-legged in a circle, clapping my hands and shaking a tambourine.’
Ha, how very naïve I was.
Baby groups sounded like something other mums went to. The mums I knew I’d never replicate. The mums that find it easy to be silly, that don’t care about making a mess and that have the laid-back ‘mum look’ down pat.
However, what no one told me is that babies like this stuff. They like the repetitive music, ticklish feathers and see-through scarves. They like messy play, wafting parachutes and synchronised light shows. And most of all, they like other babies.
So fast forward four months post-baby and I was Googling ‘local baby groups.’ If I’m honest, it was my fellow NCT mums talking about swimming classes, sensory stimulation and musical fun, that pushed me to start the search. I quickly identified a couple of sessions that took my fancy and emailed them for a free taster.
PUT YOUR BEST COMFY-SHOED FOOT FORWARD
Attending that first class felt like my first day at work. I desperately searched for an item of clothing that wasn’t covered in sick, did a decent job of disguising my mum tum and that made me look like I’d at least tried to co-ordinate an outfit. I worried about being the newbie, not knowing where to park, inadvertently flouting the house rules and my baby being the one that cried the whole way through.
Of course, just like you, I had nothing to worry about. Everyone was lovely and the class leader made us feel really welcome. I visited the venue the day before, so I knew where I was going and on arrival did a quick room check to see if it was a shoes on or off situation! It did take me a while to ‘let it go’ and feel at ease prancing around a church hall, shaking my maracas (actual maracas, obviously), but one year later, we still go every week.
Like so many things, it’s my little rocket man who spurred me on. He enjoyed it from day one. As soon as I saw his gleeful face as he held his first jingle bells, experienced his first bubbles and smiled at the baby next to him, I knew we were in for the long haul.
What I quickly realised, is that the ritual of going to class each week is good for me too. Groups give you a reason to get dressed, leave the house and talk to other adults.
MAKE A DATE
Luckily my NCT sisterhood kept me on track during those first 100 days of hell with a newborn, but it’s tough looking after a tiny human 24/7. That’s why committing to a class can give you the structure you had pre-baby. A time. A place. An activity.
Yes, some weeks you don’t feel like going. But once you’re there, you almost always feel better for having made the effort. You gain comfort from surrounding yourself with other parents that know exactly what your life looks like right now.
Over the past year it feels like we’ve been in every social club, church hall and municipal building in our area. We’ve danced, sung, played instruments, dressed up and practiced baby sign language. We’re now baby group stalwarts and I’m so glad we took that first leap of faith.
I know many a parenting guru advises against excess stimulation and over-scheduling. I don’t think for a minute that babies need classes and their schedule certainly shouldn’t rival Santa Claus’s on Christmas Eve, but I do think the odd class or free-to-join group, can be good for you and your little humans.
So if you’re thinking about joining a group, here are 5 things I’ve learnt from the baby class circuit:
5 TIPS FOR SUCCESS
1. Take advantage of free taster sessions
Some classes can be expensive, so try before you buy. Most will offer a free introductory session with no obligation to commit to a full term. Use this visit to:
- Understand the structure of each session
- Make sure you have confidence in the class leader
- Assess the venue, facilities and play items
- Look if your little one is engaged with the activities
- See if you like other parents that attend!
2. Choose a group that appeals to you
This might sound obvious, but you’ll get more out of classes that you enjoy too. Salsa music your thing? Try a music group. Love to swim? Check out baby swimming lessons. Always liked speaking French? Say ‘bonjour’ to toddler language sessions. Remember, you’re more likely to make the effort each week if you look forward to the group as well.
3. Join in the fun
Groups are a brilliant way of releasing tension, forgetting your worries for an hour and channelling your inner child. Get over any thoughts of ‘what has my life come to’ and embrace the madness. Now’s the time to leave your sensible adult head at the door and welcome in fun mummy or daddy. Your little ones will love seeing you be silly. Even if that means wearing a duck-themed shower cap, whilst shaking pompoms and singing ‘Five little ducks’!
4. Speak up
The quickest way to stop feeling like a newbie is to chat with other parents. The great thing about children is that there’s always something to talk about. So pass a comment about your little one’s latest escapades or compliment another baby’s outfit. You haven’t got to be a great raconteur, but a few words one week could turn into a chat the following week. Before you know it, you’ll be one of the old timers.
5. Don’t worry about your baby crying
As we all know, babies cry. It will happen, but one week it’ll be yours and the next week it’ll be someone else’s. Your little one might not be a fan of every single activity or it could just be an off day. No one’s judging and we’ve all been there. Of course, if you feel the class is too overwhelming and they’re not enjoying it, have a chat with the teacher and consider changing times or taking a break. They are generally quite flexible.
So, are you tempted? Go on, feel the fear and pop along anyway! If you don’t want to go on your own, see if a friend would like to go too.