Signing babies and toddlers up for a fun activity can provide parents with a social lifeline and give tots the foundation for lifelong skills.
When you live on an island surrounded by water, swimming is one life skill it’s never too early to learn.
Turtle Tots Ireland runs classes for babies and toddlers all over Ireland, with the youngest typically coming to the pool from around three months old.
The programme’s founder, Alan Reinhardt, points out that while babies don’t actually have the motor skills to swim at that age, getting them comfortable in the water is a huge help to their later development.
By the time little ones graduate from Turtle Tots’ programmes, at about age 5, they typically know enough to be able to skip children’s Level One swimming classes. Plus they have great fun, as does the parent who accompanies them in the pool.
Reinhardt is a qualified lifeguard and swim teacher who gave his first class on the day his first son was born, seven years ago, and has been running them ever since.
Today Turtle Tots Ireland runs classes in 34 pools across the country. While the programme includes underwater swimming, the focus is on having fun above the water, including songs and games that help kids develop a lifelong love of the water.
More recently Reinhardt launched Soccer Tots, which introduces children to sport through fun, friendly and pressure-free football activities.
Classes are held according to age group, starting with Soccer Minis 1½- to 2½-year-olds, Soccer Stripes for 2½- to 3½-year-olds, and Soccer Stars, the big league, which runs up to age five. Currently Soccer Tots classes are available in the greater Dublin area only but are due to roll out nationwide.
Alternatively, Little Kickers was established in the UK by a mum who couldn’t find a suitable sporting activity in her area for her two-year-old son. Today it’s a worldwide phenomenon, with 2,500 coaches in 32 countries, including Ireland, providing youngsters of all ages with an intro to the beautiful game.
Anthony McKeown discovered Little Kickers when he signed up his own toddler for a class, and was so impressed that, Victor Kiam-like, he bought the franchise. He now runs it in Bray, Greystones and Wicklow.
Classes for toddlers last 45 minutes, including warm-up and warm-down, and parents stay on-site, so the sideline is social too.
Children can start at 18 months and learn the ropes through play and fun. By the age of three they’re ready for matches — although, as any parent of a toddler will tell you, figuring out which direction to run in is always the biggest challenge. “The mums and dads tend to get really excited when the matches start,” says McKeown, who runs programmes right up to the age of eight.
Tots love music too, so check out Baby Beats at the Tempo Music School in Drumcondra, Dublin, a fun activity for babies from nine to 18 months, with an older class for 1½- to three-year-olds.
Listening to and playing music is known to produce “happy” chemicals in the brain: oxytocin, endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. Classes include songs, nursery rhymes, sound exploration, action songs and movement, introducing the children to rhythm and giving both parent and child something to smile about
Alternatively, for something totally relaxing for both of you, how about a little yoga? Elaine Glennon’s Yoga Mammas classes start out with pregnancy yoga and follow up post-birth with gentle baby massage classes for babies from the age of just two weeks.
“It’s as much for the mental health of the mums as anything else because sometimes, if your partner has gone back to work, it can feel like the walls are closing in a little and the massage classes are very social, finishing up with tea,” says Glennon.
At around 12 weeks after the birth, many of her mums graduate to mother-and-baby yoga classes, which are gentle and fun for both parent and child, with the added bonus that they might just help your child sleep better too.
Most of Glennon’s mums stay with the programme right through their maternity leave, giving them a ready-made friendship group of other new mums — which is worth its weight in gold, especially for first-time parents.
Classes are run on Thursdays and Fridays in Knocklyon, Dublin, but also online, giving mums all over the country a chance to join in and chill out.