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Baby Class Basics

Joey Geiger, of Massapequa, NY, has been attending classes of one sort or another for a year and a half now-and he's only 2. It's not because his mom, Debbe, is prepping him for preschool. "I wanted us to have special time together," she says. "We thoroughly enjoy ourselves."

Baby classes can be a wonderful activity to share with your infant. They're not designed to provide an academic, musical, or athletic leg up, but to simply offer exposure to a range of developmentally appropriate stimuli. These range from music to water to movement (see chart below for typical programs).

Syllabus Survey

Most communities offer a wide variety of classes, some that are organized by small grassroots groups and others that are run by churches, schools, or privately owned national chains. Costs range from nothing to hundreds of dollars a "semester." A typical class may last 30 to 60 minutes and meet one to several times a week for one to several months.

Making the Grade

If you decide to enroll in a class, what should you look for? "Good programs build skills in a child, while also educating parents about what their infant can do," says Roni Leiderman, Ph.D., director of the Birth to Five Programs at Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The instructor should have clear objectives in mind and provide some structure, but should also allow for flexibility. You don't want a teacher who becomes impatient when a baby crawls away from the designated activity, for example. Try to find one who stresses exploration  -- not performance; nothing a baby does in class is ever wrong.

"Be sensitive to your child's cues," says Leiderman. If you notice, for example, that your baby becomes irritable during a class, she might be frustrated by the activities. Or perhaps you've just overscheduled her a bit. If she isn't at all interested, the "course work" might be above  -- or below  -- her developmental level. "The best classes will engage a child because they'll catch her on the brink of a new interest and skill," says Leiderman. And what could be more exciting for both of you?