Getting out with baby

Stay sane with these fun activities for you and baby.

Getting out with baby

Photo: Gerri Photography

 

Parental leave is a beautiful phase of life. It’s monumental, exciting, it’s fulfilling. Oh come on, sometimes it’s also monotonous, lonely and depressing. It’s okay, you’re allowed to admit it!

Although it’s important for parents to have time for themselves and with their partners, realistically the majority of their leaves will be spent with the little one in tow. To keep their sanity, parents need to get out and be active with their children, so we’ve rounded up some of our favourite widely-available activities for parents and babies.

Babies and Big Screens

Why It’s Great:
For movie buffs, this one is a perfect choice. Cinemas nationwide offer movie times especially for parents and babies, often with discounted ticket prices, lowered sound, and a handy change table.

“Our Stars and Strollers program has been a great success,” says Georgia Sourtzis of Cineplex Entertainment. “The program offers parents a baby-friendly movie-going environment to relax and enjoy the latest movies without worrying about feeding in the dark, crying babies, or interrupting others.”

New parents and new releases aren’t often a good match, but this gives grownups their cinema fix without having to arrange for childcare or worry about being judged.

What To Keep In Mind:
You can bring children of any age; this writer took her four day old daughter to Sex and the City. (Yes, that says four day old.) However, the selections are made for the adults, and might not be appropriate for children old enough to understand. Plus, there are usually only a couple of films to choose from.

Also, once your little one is cruising around, you may spend more time chasing her than you do enjoying the film.

Swimming

Why It’s Great:
The caregiver gets in the pool with baby and participates in introductory swimming activities. For example, the Red Cross “Starfish” level (for babies under 2) focuses on getting wet, and assisted floats and movements.

“I loved seeing my son’s reaction to learning new things in the water,” says mom Jen McLaughlin, “and it was really fast-paced so we didn’t do the same things all the time. It was a good mix of singing songs, using toys, and getting the babies used to the water.” Time in the (usually heated) pool is also very calming for babies.

What To Keep In Mind:
Yes moms, getting in the pool will require a swimsuit – but remember, the majority of participants will be women who have recently given birth, and are all ‘in the same boat’ so to speak. Also, don’t expect baby to learn how to swim. At this age, it’s more about exposure and familiarity with water.

Fitness Classes

Why They’re Great:
Many recreation centres and health clubs offer classes for parents and babies, which incorporate the child into the class. This is a great choice for those new moms who are anxious to return to their pre-pregnancy fitness levels. This might not apply so much to the dads … but then again it might!

“The Salsa Babies class I did was by far my favourite activity,” shares Kamerine Gardam.” I did three six-week sessions and only stopped because my little guy was getting too heavy!”

“One of the best things I did was sign up for Baby Bootcamp,” agrees Jen. “The babies were part of the exercises, and at the end of the workout we would sing songs to the babies and talk about common mommy issues.”

Some classes are more about the baby’s activity than the parent’s. Dad Nick Cheeseman says his son loved Gymboree classes, which he received as a Christmas gift. “He had a blast playing on the apparatus and meeting other babies.”

What To Keep In Mind:
Make sure to work around baby’s schedule, and consult with your doctor before commencing any postpartum workouts.

Ontario Early Years Centre

Why It’s Great:
There are professionals planning and running circle time, crafts, and activities, and your child gets to play with new toys and children. The environment is educational, fun, and FREE, and all you have to do is show up! Many centres also have a visiting nurse from the local Health Unit, lending libraries for books and toys, and workshops and classes for parents.

“I love our local Ontario Early Years Centre, and go to their drop-in playgroups about twice a week,” says new mom Louise Hayes. “It helps give my week structure, gets me out of the house, and forces me to focus on playing with baby for a set period of time, which I don’t necessarily do if we’re at home, when I’m also trying to clean or get other things done.”

This is a great choice if you’re not just caring for a baby, but an older child (or children) as well.

“I like the Early Years Centre because it exposes my kids to others in their age groups, which they don’t get at home,” says mom of three, Meaghan Wells. “My youngest is always mesmerized by the new toys, and watching the bigger kids play around him. But the best part is circle time when they sing.”

What To Keep In Mind:
“Dress for mess for less stress” is their motto. Socks are usually required, and parents are often asked for snack donations.

Playgroups

Why They’re Great:
You can join up with other parents and children, whether casually or through a formal organization. Karri Hull founded a mom’s group because she saw a need for free family activities, and as a way to help moms and kids both make new friends. “With the group, there’s always a stream of things to do that don’t cost money,” she says, “and a fabulous local support system.”

Many parents opt for more casual groups formed with family members, neighbours or coworkers. “Talking to other parents gives me a chance to exchange tips, compare notes, and just discuss the similar issues, challenges and joys we’re all dealing with in the first year of life with babies,” says Louise. Plus, she has become friends with women who were previously only acquaintances, because of their time together with their babies. “I suspect these friendships will continue after our parental leaves end.”

The groups aren’t just for women; Nick says he always felt welcome at his weekly “mommies’ group” get-togethers. “I was the only dad, but it was great to swap stories, share experiences, and vent.”

What to keep in mind:
There’s a danger for these groups to turn into child-comparison or competitive parenting sessions, so try to keep it positive. If transportation is a problem, you can offer to host.

Going With the Flow

Why It’s Great:
You don’t have to adhere to anyone’s schedule but your own. When it’s nice, take a walk. When it’s raining, hit the mall or the library. When you’re tired, stay in and lie on the couch. While it’s important to establish routines, baby might not always be in sync with your priorities, and this way, you’re not checking your watch or rushing to scheduled activities.

“Impromptu playdates are always fun,” says Kamerine, “and I try to get out at least once a day to the park, or just for a walk.” Meaghan agrees that getting outside is important: “I will admit this is hard, especially when it’s -20 C out, but it has made me feel great, and the kids love being outside.”

During his parental leave, Nick enjoyed taking his son to the library, as well as a family-friendly, kid-themed coffee-shop in his area. (Coffee and new parents make a popular combination!)

What To Keep In Mind:
If you don’t sign up for something, you just might not get out of the house. If you’d rather go with the flow and not commit to any scheduled activities, set a goal of two or three outings a week just to make sure you don’t become housebound.

The parents I spoke to seem to agree that trying to run errands is not the best way to spend the days with baby. “I’ve given up trying to do that with kids in tow. It’s just not worth the stress,” says Meaghan. “It’s kind of a hassle,” concurs Louise. “Where possible, I do it nights or weekends when dad is home to watch the baby, or I drop her at her grandparents’ house so I can get stuff done.” If you’re going to go out, say these parents, baby-centred activities are more valuable and enjoyable.

It’s important for you and your baby to have time at home just to get to know each other (and of course for you to get things done; you can’t spend all day stimulating your child), but these outings will definitely help with the baby blues, and perhaps get you some exercise, teach your child something (music classes are also popular), and allow you to make some new friends. “Getting out lots, and getting out early, with baby has really worked for me,” concludes Louise.

Author: Kate Winn

Kate Winn is a teacher, freelance writer, and blogger: 
www.thismomloves.blogspot.com.

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