Gaining a headstart by starting young

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Gaining a headstart by starting young

Did you know that infants, as young as six months, enjoy social interaction, especially through music and dance? Babies are a hyperactive lot, and my daughter was no exception.

When I began to discover things for her to do outside the house when she was ten months old, I was a little disappointed by the lack of activities and avenues for interaction for children below the age of two. Bangalore boasts of plenty of things to do for older kids — there are art and craft classes, dance, pottery workshops, sports and summer camps, theme-based camps and storytelling but surprisingly, there are very few activities for infants and toddlers.

Every place I took her, the kids seemed to tower over her physically, but she seemed to equal them in enthusiasm and energy. And indeed, one would argue, with their older counterparts being physically ahead of them to jump, play, swim and draw, what can babies do?

I got my answers when I attended a trial class for Rhythm and Rhyme, the only infant music and movement programme in Bangalore, which has been attracting packed houses from babies, children and parents alike.

In a Rhythm and Rhyme class, babies are treated to an ensemble of music, dance, rhymes, movements, mimes and exciting props, all the while exploring and experiencing skills such as co-ordination, flexibility, strengthening the upper body, self-expression, the ability to understand and follow instructions, creative play, listening and most importantly, social interaction at such a young age.

“The attention span of babies is limited, and they crave momentum and newness, so we must always be on the move and classes should not be too long,” says Vivienne V, founder and instructor at Rhythm and Rhyme.

And the babies are not alone — the parents are expected to join in the fun! Babies are more confident to interact and play when they are with their parents. With the social maturity and ability to interact being looked upon as deciding factors for a child’s readiness to enter school, group activities for babies are important and valuable. In a parent-toddler programme, the parent is present, so there is visibility, and at the same time, the child also learns to distance himself/herself from the parent and interact with others.

“The child gradually learns that if Mom or Dad does it, he or she can do it too, because a baby’s role models are his or her parents,” says Vivienne. “A few babies come with their nannies but I encourage the parents to join them. I especially encourage participation from the Dads, who are a bit more self-conscious than the Moms but who also have an important role to play in the development of the child.”

“The younger the children are, the more they will learn,” says Vivienne, founder and instructor at Rhythm and Rhyme, who had moved back to India from the US a year and a half ago. “When I moved back to Bangalore, I looked for activities for my children and I was surprised by lack of opportunities for interaction for toddlers,” says Vivienne.
Added to this, she enjoyed entertaining kids, particularly her own, and derived inspiration from the variety of parent-toddler programmes that she had come across, during her stay in America.

What started as a successful first round of sessions in a library has now become hugely popular with parents, kids and even teachers. 

The programme consists of sessions for different age groups. Babies aged six to 18 months are called ‘Baby Bugs’, toddlers aged 1-3 years are called ‘Bugs’ and kids aged 3-5 years are called ‘Beasts’.  Activities for the older children include more physically adventurous play activities, group singing, aerobics and gymnastics, language development and communication skills.

While nursery rhymes and songs like Row, Row, Row Your Boat; Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes; Wheels in the Bus go Round and Round and The Itsy Bitsy Spider are popular, Vivienne includes some of her own creations. She also believes in improvisation and in preserving the spontaneity of the kids in her class. “I use my own kids’ ideas on what props to use and we also come up with our own songs,” she says.

“This class had made all the difference,” says Manisha Dasappa, whose 14-month-old daughter, Jahanaara, is part of the Rhythm and Rhyme programme. “Jahanaara was a little shy at first but now she interacts more and really enjoys herself.”

Vivienne states that it is normal for some babies and kids to not respond immediately and that in fact, a lot of ‘unconscious learning’ takes place, through observation. Cranky babies are immediately soothed when music is played. “In fact, many children sing or enact all the songs at home and will do so in front of others when they are more confident,” says Vivienne.

In each session, a toy mic is around for kids to sing or speak into and this, according to Vivienne, builds self-esteem and is an important step for a child to take early in life, because stage fright is something that concerns even adults.

‘Pop those bubbles’ uses real bubbles and encourages hand-eye coordination, the use of rhymes and songs helps confidence building through rhythmic patterns, the group singing, enacting and finger-play encourage social interaction and communication and sign language facilitates communication. Even mothers sometimes forget themselves and groove with the music, whether it is an enjoyable children’s version of the folksy Jim along Josie or any song that has them up on their feet with their children.

Marysia McDonnell-Smith, mother of 11 month-old Henry, says her son loves the classes. “He has a great time. The classes are very well-organised, there are a lot of new props introduced every week and the songs and Ms Vivienne’s energy are just wonderful.” 

Pooja Satish, whose seven-month-old son Dhruv, has started a Rhythm and Rhyme class, says “I am keen that Dhruv meets other kids, because his exposure is limited to grandparents and relatives.”

“Kids learn the way they want to learn,” says Vivienne. “The important thing is for the children and parents to relax, interact, and have fun.”

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