Parenting Debate: Are Classes for Babies Actually Beneficial?

Baby classes—gym, ASL or art for six-week-olds—absolutely have their purpose: making mom friends (or, you know, awkwardly smiling at other moms across a crowded room), leaving the house, passing by Starbucks, putting on pants. But does your baby actually get anything out of them, besides perhaps her first runny nose? Here, experts on both sides take it to the (baby yoga) mat.

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Classes Really Do Benefit Babies

Devotees may swear by the benefits of baby sign language, RIE playgroups or (for reals) floating infant hydro-massage. But music classes may legitimately be worth your baby’s while. Linguistic scholar Amy Bidgood sums up the science: “In one study, researchers…found that infants in participatory music classes were not only more musically aware, but that they also had better-developed gestures and social skills just after the classes. Another study found...mothers showed increased attachment to their babies, and the quality of mother-child interaction also improved. These mothers were found to be better at responding to their infants and using a more variable pitch when speaking to their child. This might, in turn, support vocabulary development.” The upshot? Skip the hydro-massage and sign up for Music Together, pronto.

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Classes Are Beneficial—but Only For Grown-ups

In her definitive column on the subjectNew York Times parenting columnist KJ Dell’Antonia firmly says “Meh.” She writes: “If I had a baby now, I wouldn’t consider swim lessons for a minute—or music classes, or any form of baby gym—unless I (or my babysitter) was the one who wanted to go.” Author and childcare expert Janet Lansbury even worries baby classes may do more harm than good. Writing about one child, Leo, who was given an instrument only have it taken away a few minutes later, she says, “There are problems with this kind of instruction for babies. First, the child is not allowed to make choices. The adults decide what the baby should find interest in and then he is expected to perform. Secondly, the child’s innate desire to explore is curtailed. By interrupting the child while he is still demonstrating interest in an instrument (or any object), we discourage focus and long attention span. Thirdly, and I think most disruptive for Leo, was overstimulation and the unpredictability of his surroundings. Babies find comfort in knowing what will happen next in a situation, and can be sensitive to surprises or sudden changes. We can trust a child’s relationship with music to evolve naturally.” In other words, save yourself the $380 plus a free CD. 

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