Toddler activities your way

Take a browse through the local parks-and-rec or community ed brochures and you’ll be amazed, if not completely overwhelmed. 

Our wonderful Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs offer an extensive array of enrichment opportunities for the whole family. 

Talk to your neighbors and you’ll hear many parents breathlessly list off team sports and voice lessons, ice time and recycled art — all of the classes and events and workshops they’ve signed their brood up for — and now struggle to cram into already-full days. 

As a parent just coming out of the When will you sleep through the night? baby fog and into the wacky world of toddlerhood, the lifestyles of those overscheduled school-aged kids might seem completely nuts. 

As you move a little deeper into the toddler experience, you realize that it’s not just big kids taking after-school classes and juggling different sports and activities. The toddler crowd is going all-in with extracurricular experiences, too.

 

Do you need this? Maybe!

Interested, but perhaps a little wary, you investigate your options and immediately start spinning through many questions: Do we need this? Does my child want this? Is he ready? What can we afford? On a limited budget, what activities will give us the most bang for our buck? 

Barring early intervention issues such as speech, sight or physical therapy, toddlers do not need to go to any sort of group, activity or class. 

Rest assured that your child’s chances for lifelong success and happiness will not be bolstered or hindered by the decision to spend Wednesday mornings at The Little Gym.

That said, my daughter benefited greatly from both Little Gym and Gymboree programs because she had issues with binocular vision. Balance activities and games — which relied on primordial reflexes, crossing the midline and gross-motor skills — actually aided in her visual development. But that’s our story. You have to evaluate your own child’s situation.

Getting the wiggles out

A hyper child might get the chance to release excess energy with a high-octane dance class. Your little introvert, meanwhile, might do better with a small art class — working as an individual while slowly getting a feel for being a part of a group. Your animal enthusiast might not need the parent-child programs at the zoo, but he’ll likely think they’re pretty amazing. 

When my son was 2, we signed him up for a martial arts class through the local community center. At that age, most of the time was spent literally running in circles to Who Let the Dogs Out? 

But it was cheap and got his many, many wiggles out, so I viewed it as a success. 

Really, what most parents look for in an enrichment program is something to do — a way to break up the day. If the enjoyment and accessibility is mutually rewarding for both parent and child, I say go for it — keeping in mind individual readiness and willingness to participate. 

3 top picks

Beyond individual needs and preferences, I do have three favorite picks for parents who want to get their toddler into something but aren’t sure where to start:

Parent-child music class: Music Together, Musikgarten and Kindermusik are just three examples. Kids love music and these classes give the grown-ups a TON of new material to use around the house. Though your child won’t bomb the SAT without a toddler music class, research suggests that early exposure to music education does boost brain activity in specific ways. 

Low-pressure gymnastics or dance: Especially through the winter months, these classes offer priceless opportunities to run, jump, squirm and play. I say “low-pressure” because I believe that at this age, more is gained from free exploration of movement than diligently practicing the same routine. 

Swim lessons: In my opinion, it’s never too early to practice water readiness. This is a safety skill and an enjoyable form of exercise that will serve your child forever. Most kids love the water and if they don’t, becoming acquainted with the pool at an early age — with Mom or Dad there for security — can prevent fear from turning into phobia.


 

Jen Wittes lives in St. Paul and is a mother of two. Write her at jwittes@mnparent.com.