We are so glad to be living in a city and community full of fun things to do for little ones. I’ve read (and heard) a fair bit about the so-called danger of the “overscheduled child”, especially in West LA. (UCLA actually held a parenting seminar based on creating balance in an over-indulgent LA lifestyle.) I myself was split… I respected the schools of thought around unstructured play and didn’t want to fall into the “overscheduled” trap but I also knew that we were the type of parents that like to keep busy ourselves. We like exploring new things, enjoying activities together and getting out of the house. Over the past few months (especially after Maddie started to get more mobile and we settled into our new city) we found ourselves naturally leaning towards the latter.
We have a “try it once” philosophy with most things and let Maddie take the lead in letting us know whether a class/activity is something she’d like to do regularly, once in a while, or never again. That said, we tried quite a few around the area and I wanted to review a few of them here in case any of you are considering them!
Maddie at Kick and Play climbing bilibos and kicking (throwing) balls into the soccer goal.
Music Together, Wondertree, Zooga Yoga and Books and Cookies
This one is by far Maddie’s favorite class and we are entering our 3rd session. It is a structured music class with original music. Each session introduces new music (you get a songbook and 2 CDs) and it’s a highly interactive class (with instruments!) that puts a lot of emphasis on musicality and rhythm. After a couple of months Maddie has started to clap and tap to the beat of her favorite songs, and these CDs are on heavy, heavy rotation in the car. Some of the songs are simple chants that Maddie has started to follow along too. We love Mr. Bill at the reDiscover Center in the Marina but Maddie attends the weekly classes in Playa Vista which is walking distance for us.
Jelly Bean Jamz
This one is another structured music class with more floor movement and dancing and more traditional children’s songs. I love that they bring instruments and really let the children explore the different sounds each make. This one is about half the price of Music Together. It’s less about curriculum and more about movement and play. Also they play more live songs here on the guitar/ukelele which is a lot of fun, including some “Kindie” music by Renee & Jeremy.
Books & Cookies Music Time
This is a drop-in class at Books & Cookies in Venice. I felt this one was a little bit chaotic as it’s a large class (and sells out fast so you have to arrive early to reserve your spot) and the children are a little less focused on the songs. Sandra (the musician) plays all of the music on the guitar so it’s a little less hand movements. This one is a good one for a playdate with other moms as there is a cafe to hang out at beforehand and the kiddos can browse through books afterwards as mommies chat.
Wondertree Sing and Sign
This was our least favorite music class. I was hoping it was a little bit more about learning useful signs but found that it was mostly signing along to songs. (Which is fast and confusing for first timers.) This may be better for younger babies who are more stationary and focused on watching mom, but not great for the busy toddler that wants to roam around and check out instruments. When we were there the theme was “The Four Seasons” so we learned a lot of signs about the seasons and the weather… not very useful at all!
Kick and Play (Toddler Soccer)
This was one the hubby was desperate for Maddie to be good at, but alas we have a musician not a sportsman on our hands! That said by the end of the session Maddie did finally show interest in kicking the ball (after 8 weeks of picking up the ball and throwing it into the goal) so we had mixed feelings about whether to continue. It’s a very fun class for adults and older toddlers but there are a lot of different activities using the same props so it gets confusing for smaller toddlers. Each week is an “animal” theme which is a lot of fun and it’s a lot of physical exercise and motor skills development which has definitely helped Maddie with her climbing skills. (Not sure that’s a good thing.) Maddie’s favorite thing about this class was the songs and playing with the bilibos.
I wasn’t sure what to expect bringing Maddie to Yoga… would I be doing yoga or would she be playing on the mat? Turns out it’s a little bit of both. (How cute is that little baby yoga mat next to mine??) This was a very difficult class, and one toddlers just aren’t that interested in. Sitting and breathing, stretching, warrior pose… Maddie was much more interested in the animal mural on the far wall and spent most of her time running back and forth from the wall to her mat! That said there are a few fun poses that she DID want to follow (that belly balancing on a tree pose, CUTENESS!) and they did have some fun songs. (Along with a very patient yogi.)
Yoga Vista Mommy & Baby Yoga
We did a one-off private session here that I loved. This was focused 100% on mommies, but using babies as a prop. Maddie was the oldest one in the class and preferred to be up next to me copying my poses rather than laying on the mat (maybe I should take her back to Zooga yoga?) and I nearly died doing any of the exercises that required lifting our babies above our head. This teaches me to keep to the right age groups at lessons! The cutest thing ever though was towards the end of class when other babies started getting fussy, Maddie would walk around and hand them toys and try to keep them busy. Looks like she is ready for a sibling?
Pump Station Toddler & Me
I missed the boat on the Mommy & Me class but was able to join the Toddler & Me class when a spot opened up. This is a wonderful class that combined unstructured play with mommy education. We did a lot of observing the littles while they played and socialized with each other while discussing parenting, developmental and motherhood issues with our group leader. We learned a lot about toddler discipline and behavioral transitions. The great thing about this group is that it is very age-focused so all of the babies are within 3 months of each other. It’s a very nurturing environment and even though I don’t still attend I’ve built friendships that now extend past the class and we do regular weekly meetups. (Without the hefty Pump Station fee!)
We haven’t tried Gymboree here in LA yet but we did it back in OC when Maddie was 4 – 10 months old. Gymbo is still her favoritest ever and we still sing some of the songs we learned in this class. I feel like this class helped develop her awareness and attention span when she was little, which set the tone for how much she enjoys her music classes today.
This is another one I did back in OC that I haven’t tried yet in LA. I loved the workout but I think the best part was getting out of the house and being amongst a group of fit/active mothers. This was a perfect activity to do during maternity leave but I could not imagine fitting this into a busy work schedule (though one just opened up in our neighborhood so I may give it a try!). Each session was packed with squats, jogs and resistance training along with fun songs and activities including the babies. But the biggest takeaway for me was all of the parenting advice in between sets from all of the other moms who have been there, done that.