Baby classes – are they worth the investment?
I could also be seen at all the local baby and toddler groups in the area, along with any nearby library sing-along sessions.
I was exhausted.
But, looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way. When my baby was tiny, the classes were about giving me an excuse to get out of the house and meet other new mums. Having recently moved to a new area, I was terrified of becoming isolated and spending all day with no adult interaction, even if the conversations were only about feeding and sleep.
As my daughter grew, becoming more aware and awake for longer periods, the classes stimulated her in new ways, which I couldn’t do on my own at home.
Now, 18 months on, we still go to Monkey Music classes. And we’re signed up for yet another term of swimming. But the other activity sessions have fallen by the wayside. Now I’m back at work and my daughter’s going to a childminder there’s not the same desperation to get out of the house when we’re at home. And as my daughter becomes a toddler, with obvious likes and dislikes, it’s easier to see which classes she gets more out of.
Despite my enthusing for the classes we joined, I’m not sure I’d give the same advice to other new mums. Lots of baby classes are expensive – and many require mums to sign up for a block of sessions weeks in advance. New babies quickly change sleep and feeding routines, meaning I could often be found at the back of a class, with a sleeping baby in my arms. Not the best use of £6 really.
Baby classes are big business now. There’s a class for pretty much every activity you can think of – including foreign language sessions for babies under 12 months. It’s easy to buy into the idea that you need to sign your 4 month old up for lessons to keep them stimulated and give them the best start in life, but how much of this is just PR spin to get money out of naïve new mums like me?
A quick poll of other mums shows opinion is very much divided. “We loved our music and gym classes,” says one mum, “But the swimming lessons weren’t as successful, as my son hated being dunked under water.”
“We really enjoyed our swimming lessons,” says another mum. “But we loved Tumble Tots even more. The music lessons didn’t go down as well for us though, as my son found it hard to stay that engaged and follow all the instructions.”
For many mums, these kinds of baby classes just aren’t an option. The cost of the lessons and the fact you have to pay up front for a block of sessions rules them out completely.
“The mums in our NCT group all take our babies swimming once a week to the local pool,” says one mum I spoke to. “It costs £4.50, whereas the national swim company that runs classes nearby charges £14 for a lesson. This isn’t a realistic cost for someone on Statutory Maternity Pay.”
“We also do a free local music class, run through our County Council,” says the mum. “This is great as you can just turn up at each session. I’d go even if it wasn’t free though, as at least then I know the money would go back into our community.”
But not everyone is lucky enough to have free classes on their doorstep. The economic crisis and funding cuts to local services means lots of free baby classes have now been axed.
So what do you do if there’s not much on offer in your local area, but you still want to sign your baby up for a class? How do you choose from the plethora of classes that are now available? At around £100 for a term of classes, it’s worth doing a bit of research first.
Most companies will let you sit in on the first session for free, to see if you and your child like the lesson. This is a really useful way of deciding if it’s worth the investment. Even if the company doesn’t advertise a free taster session, it’s always worth asking if you can go along to watch before signing up, as this is probably the best type of research you can do.
It’s also an idea to ask for recommendations. We plumped for a couple of our classes because they’d been highly recommended by friends. Bear in mind, though, that all babies and children are different. While your friend’s son may love his music sessions, this doesn’t mean your daughter will – and vice versa.
And finally, be flexible. Babies and young children change so quickly, that while they may love a class at the beginning of a term, this might not be the case eight weeks later. So keep an eye on what’s available locally and be prepared to drop a class or try out a new one if you don’t think you’re getting your money’s worth.
Which classes did you do with your baby? And were they worth the cash?