First Classes that Make the Grade

Programs for tots are wonderful learning opportunities -- if you know what to look for. Here, what to check out before you sign up.

Introduction

Shortly after my daughter Christiane's first birthday, it became clear to me that squeaky toys and trips to the playground just weren't cutting it on the entertainment front. As I pored over books and magazines looking for yet another way to stimulate her, it occurred to me that what we really needed was an activity that took place somewhere else. Enrolling in a toddler class together proved to be the perfect solution for both of us.

That's not to say you should expect a class to boost your child's IQ. "That's not what these classes are about," says Claire Lerner, a child-development specialist at Zero To Three: The National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, in Washington, D.C. "They are about exposing your toddler to new faces and experiences -- and introducing you to parents with kids of the same age."

Indeed, one fringe benefit of enrolling your child in a toddler program is making friends yourself. "As a first-time mom who had just moved to the suburbs, going to Gymboree with my daughter, Abbie, was a great way to get to know my new town," says Margie Lynch, of Chatham, New Jersey. "I now have a wonderful circle of friends -- and so does Abbie."

Unfortunately, not all toddler classes are created equal. "Be sure to visit a variety of programs to find the best one for you and your child," says Beth Teitelman, a toddler educator and director of the 92nd Street Y Parenting Center, in New York City. "There's a lot more to a toddler class than keeping all the kids in one room." Here's, what to look for before you sign up.

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