From martial arts to ice skating, singing to gym, craft clubs to foreign languages, the range of toddler classes on offer these days means your toddler may well have a fuller social diary than you!
But which of these classes are really worth spending money on? The good ones are those that contribute to your toddler’s development, say experts.
“If your child is learning an instrument, dancing or painting she’s having to concentrate, remember and listen, practising skills she needs to develop,” says Denise Bergman, lecturer in families, parents and communities studies.
“And the more physical classes help co-ordination and balance, and boost confidence,” Denise says.
Alongside the UK-wide networks of programmes, such as Gymboree and Jo Jingles, are a host of smaller operations, often restricted to a single town and usually run by parents of small children who are making the most of their own special skills during their family’s pre-school years. These are often packed with flair and are definitely well worth investigating.
What if my toddler’s too shy?
“I’ve tried taking Daniel, 2, along to a class but he simply refuses to join in as he’s too shy,” says Charlene, 34.
“Don’t worry,” says parenting expert Denise Bergman, “This is common as children have different stages of development. Daniel’s at the ‘looking on’ stage, so let him just sit and watch. It may take a few weeks doing this before he wants to even start to join in. But never force a child, it should always be fun.”
Martial arts classes
Martial arts classes are best for emotional and motor development, and shy toddlers.
Look for well-thought out classes that clearly link the physical activities to mental strengths, such as concentration, memory and teamwork.
Martial arts are great for building confidence. Bessie, 34, mum to Poppy, 6, and Jude, 3, is sending her youngest to karate classes at Ancrum Karate School, Dundee,which have already worked wonders for her eldest.
“Poppy was quite a shy girl but karate has really helped,” Bessie says. “She gets a different stripe every week as a reward for skills such as focus, balance, teamwork, memory or control and comes out smiling each week.”
“It’s very disciplined, but it’s also fun and educational,” says karate coach Jim Fraser.
“The children line up and pay attention. It’s all non-contact and they learn to develop balance and co-ordination,” Jim explains.
Art and craft classes
Art and craft classes are best for imagination, fine motor skill development and messy toddlers.
Look for friendly sessions, where creativity and imagination are the order of the day.
“At her craft classes, my daughter has to learn to take turns and share, plus all the sticking and threading helps her physical motor development,” says Gillain, 38, mum to Ruby, 2. “Best of all, though, it’s messy and I don’t have to clean up!”
Lyndsey takes Ruby to LittlesmARTies Messy Play, which lets children loose with paint, soft dough and clay, creating all sorts.
“One week she’s making mermaids, the next it might be monsters,” Gillian says.
Many of these arts clubs are run by local mums who often have plenty of teaching experience.
Sports classes are best for balance, co-ordination, fitness and tiring your toddler out!
Look for classes with good equipment and those that keep children moving and involved.
From the age of about 2, toddlers can get to grips with hockey sticks, cricket bats, tennis rackets and footballs.
Anna, 34, has been taking her son Samuel, 4, to Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire-based Mini-Strikers since he was 2.
“What Samuel enjoys most is the freedom to run around in class while playing with lots of different equipment,” she says. “He’s turned from a shy 2 year old into a confident 4 year old.”
Ball sports can also be educational. “We incorporate a lot of the early learning goals from the national curriculum,” coach Adam Piper says. “While they’re exercising, we’re doing colour, animal and number recognition.”
Classes are usually run by men, giving a rare opportunity for this age group to have male teachers, which can be a real bonus for some.
Music classes are best for active and noisy toddlers.
Look for small classes with bubbly leaders who keep the children’s interest.
Cassandra, 40, has tried both nationwide and local music classes. She took her eldest, Daisy, as an 18 month old to a music class run by a local dance teacher, which she says was fantastic and original.
By the time her youngest, Adam, now 4, came along, the teacher had moved, so Cassandra went to her local Jo Jingles class. “My two loved the music, the singing and the dancing in both classes, not to mention the chance to whack instruments to their heart’s content,” she says.
Children get to develop their language and listening skills, says Gill Thomas of Jo Jingles. “Music classes encourage their imagination and understanding of rhythm, and using musical instruments helps improve children’s coordination.”
Gymboree is best for physical development, and toddlers who seem to be part-monkey!
Look for classes with plenty of good quality equipment, but it’s worth asking how often it’s cleaned, especially those that have ball pools!
Toddlers adore climbing and bouncing around. Dad Jack, 38, takes 1 year old Connor to his local branch of UK-wide Gymboree.
“We love coming,” says Jack, “and I’ve really seen Connor become more confident, plus he also learns lots of new activities that we can then play at home.”
Gymboree offers a mix of experiences. “We use climbing equipment, but there are also musical instruments, dance, song, movement and much more,” says Sandra Marchetti, company managing director.
Several rinks offer ice skating lessons for the very young, according to Emma Riazancew of JNLL Bracknell Ski and Snowboard Centre. “We can take children as young as 18 months but they need to bring a crash helmet,” she adds. By 4, some are skating properly.
Your toddler can learn performing skills at circus schools around the country, such as Bristol-based Circus Maniacs School of Circus Arts. With classes for children aged 3-5, specially adapted equipment offers your toddler the chance to learn plate-spinning, tight-wire, acrobatics and trapeze.
Your toddler probably loves pouring, mixing and baking, and if the sessions come with a healthy eating [link?] message attached, so much the better, say Mini-Cooks, in Yorkshire. Toddlers get to make simple, fun healthy snacks to eat as well as taking part in a craft activity or game.
Most local pools run classes for toddlers – it’s never too early to start. Lessons can create real water babies!
The best time to learn a second or third language is from birth to around the age of 12. Club Petit Pierrot, in London, takes children from 8 months to age 9.