We all love playing with our infants and toddlers – they are just so full of the wonder of life and everything is so new and exciting to them. We do our best to provide a stimulating environment within the home, complete with toys that blink, flash, beep and even interact with our babies. We have books, stuffed animals, toy cars, slides and more to keep them constantly amused, and we relish our time spent playing with them for hours on end. What could possibly be missing?
In some cases, infants and toddlers are fortunate enough to have siblings, cousins or neighbors to keep them company and provide valuable peer-based social interactions. When such playmates are available, our young ones tend to flourish in terms of social ability: they play better with others, they learn sharing and they are better able to cope with complex social interactions as teens and young adults. Any amount of time spent playing with other children is extremely valuable to their overall developmental health – as such, we literally owe it to our children to provide ample opportunity to play with other kids of various age ranges (although especially important is to find appropriate playmates of the same age group).
What can we do, however, when our baby is an only child? Or what if the neighbors and siblings are all considerably older than our infant or toddler? Heck, even if your little angel has plenty of young playmates, they would still benefit from additional exposure (besides the obvious benefits to their social skills, they also benefit from exposure to different germs which can help strengthen their immune system from a very young age). One great option, which my wife and I were happy to stumble upon, is to enroll your child in a local Gymboree program!
According to the Gymboree Play and Music website (http://www.gymboreeclasses.com/en/contact-us/faqs-copy/), Gymboree Play & Music classes are available through more than 712 franchised and company-operated centers in the United States, Canada and 40 other countries. This means that, no matter where you are, there is a good chance there is a Gymboree center close enough to take your kid to.
Gymboree provides a fun, challenging and interactive environment for young kids to play, learn and socialize in similar age groups. It is an excellent alternative to other early activities as it provides a play space that is ideally suited for infants and toddlers – during the course of the 18 months or so that my young daughter has been attending Gymboree classes, she has crawled for the first time (originally because she was afraid of the parachute and wanted to escape the situation, asap), taken her first steps and developed friendships that have extended well beyond the walls of the Gymboree play gym. In the early weeks and months, my little Ava Skye Walker (yes, that is her name) was timid and cautious, but in short time she started embracing the social experience in every way, from the wide variety of cool friends that she has met to the creepy clown mascot (affectionately called “Gymbo” or “Jimbo”, depending on who you ask). These days, our weekly trips to Gymboree (and sometimes more often than that, when we attend open gym for extra play time) are often looked upon with excitement and anticipation, and we love watching our little baby run, climb and play with other children.
As a result of our experiences at Gymboree, our baby has developed her playful imagination much faster than most other kids her age, and she loves running around and actively interacting with new kids, all the time. While she took her first crawl and her first steps at Gymboree, she also learned to share, take turns and generally appreciate the company of other active playmates, both in and out of the gym. She enjoys the open play environment, the fun music and bubble activities, as well as the myriad of equipment that she can climb, swing, balance, jump and rock on. She loves exploring fun crawl spaces and meeting new people, and the time she spends playing roll, catch or chase has proved to be invaluable toward her overall development.
NOTE: I want to give a special shout out to the local Gymboree that my family tends to frequent – the Gymboree franchise located in Upland, Ca (791 E Foothill Blvd, Upland, CA 91786 – 909-981-8227) has been home to our family since Ava first started attending classes, and the teachers and staff have become great friends and learning guides for both our little Ava, as well as ourselves. If you are in the local area, call and talk to Heather (or any one of the supportive staff members) to find out about a free trial class for your kid.
In addition to providing a great learning and development environment for infants, toddlers and young children, the Gymboree experience also involves fun “theme” weeks and other activities designed to engage your child. From superheroes to Disney characters to holiday themes and special events (like Firefighter day, which Ava absolutely loved!), there are fun things happening all the time to keep things fresh and interesting.
Eventually, your kid might naturally wind up as a soccer player, a gymnast, a basketball player or part of some other athletically-inclined field….. You can do quite a bit to foster your child’s abilities and encourage their overall social and physical development, “in house” (so to speak) – however, including some sort of outside activities and environments is always a great idea, no matter how well rounded the home life is. Our toddlers are much smarter than most of us realize – they are capable of great things, and introducing them to new people (while allowing them to engage in physical play in an inherently challenging and stimulation environment) is incredibly rewarding for them as they nurture friendships and overcome physical and emotional obstacles. Toddlers and young children crave outside interactions, and they take great pride in accomplishing even the most trivial of physical activities. The best thing you can is provide opportunities for them to explore and play alongside their peers, in a moderately structured environment with plenty of room for dynamic and flexible playtime.
Give it a shot, today!