Parent and child activities (often referred to as “mommy and me”) are a great way for new parents to get out of the house and bond with their babies. Whether you’re looking to make friends, encourage your child’s development, or just find a change of scenery because you’re going a little stir crazy at home, there's something for everyone in Austin.
You’ll know you're in the right place when your baby enjoys it and you feel like you’re finding your people — friends who understand that you’ve had about three hours of sleep in the past six months and won’t bat an eye at the milk stains on your shirt. Austin offers a great variety of classes, groups, and activities, both during the week and on weekends for your convenience. The following are six of the best.
Books and Babies
Your local library can be a surprisingly great place to bring your baby. Many branches offer a version of a Books and Babies group, where babies can enjoy a short story time with songs, followed by free play with plenty of toys.
Babies who can sit up or crawl may benefit from the playtime more than younger infants. But whatever age your child is, this is a great opportunity to meet other parents. Some library branches even have a designated children’s area to play with toys and, of course, to read and borrow books.
Books and Babies groups are free to attend, and times vary by location.
Gymboree Play and Learn
Gymboree offers several parent and child activities, but is most known for its popular Play and Learn classes which help your baby’s physical, mental, and social development. Many people start bringing their babies to Gymboree at around 6 months, although there is a class for babies younger than 6 months too. The 6- to 10-month-old class begins with warm-up activities and songs, followed by free play on the equipment with help from the friendly instructor, and ends with parachute time (and bubbles, which babies love!).
Parents shouldn’t look for miracles in their baby’s development — they will still learn at their own pace — but the extra stimulation may help them reach those milestones a little earlier.
There are three Gymboree locations in the Austin area, and classes continue until the age of 5, meaning your child can have fun and grow in a familiar environment.
Heartsong offers your baby an introduction to the world of music in a wonderfully warm, accepting environment. The teachers are carefully chosen for their big hearts and welcoming attitudes, and there is an emphasis on building community at Heartsong, a North Austin staple of 11 years.
Heartsong teaches the Music Together curriculum, which is based on the participation of parents and caregivers, so expect to get involved in singing, moving, and playing simple percussion instruments in a relaxed setting. You can bring your little one to the class for babies aged 0 to 8 months or to the mixed-age class for children aged 0 to 5 years. Sessions begin with the "Hello" song, in which your child is welcomed by name, and continue with a mix of traditional and lesser-known songs and chants. The mixed-age class includes a "jam" time where children can try out instruments. Both groups end with a lullaby and "Goodbye" song.
Okay, so some cliches exist about stroller exercise classes. Visions of an army of moms leisurely pushing their strollers back and forth while their babies wear matching workout gear comes to mind. But Stroller Stride classes, which are held at a number of locations around Austin, defy these expectations.
Expect zero pushing the stroller back and forth (or baby workout gear) and instead prepare for crunches, burpees, timed sprinting, and weight-lifting. In short, a real workout. If it’s your first post-baby exercise session, your body may ache afterwards in ways you didn’t know were possible. Fitness benefits aside, the pain is so worth it for the community. Far from feeling pressure to get back your pre-baby body, you will feel supported in your own goals. And at what other time are you encouraged to shout, “I am strong! I am healthy! I am beautiful! I am a good mom!” in a public place without attracting strange looks? These are just the words every stressed, sleep-deprived new mom needs to hear.
You may be wondering what the benefit is to your baby of sitting in a stroller watching you workout in a park. If your baby isn’t a fan of stroller rides, you might want to think twice. But our children benefit to no end when we feel empowered, and you will also provide a healthy lifestyle example from early on.
Swimming at the YMCA
There are several great swim schools in Austin if you want your baby to learn at a young age. But if you’re just looking for a bonding activity that will help your little one feel comfortable in the water, you can’t beat the YMCA for flexibility and affordability. Prices start at just $9 per class for babies from 6 months, and there is a discount for YMCA members.
Depending on availability, you may be in a class with toddlers of mixed ages. The first skills learned include safely putting their face in the water, blowing bubbles, and floating on their back. The emphasis is on you teaching your baby.
Don’t worry if your baby has not been a fan of the water in the past — it is still worth trying lessons, as being surrounded by smiling faces and an engaging instructor can work wonders.
The Toybrary offers parent and child activities, including story time and a music group, and is a fantastic resource for the community. If you prefer a less structured time away from home with your older baby, you can simply come and interact in the Toybrary’s colorful space. Playing with new toys in a different environment stimulates senses and encourages development. And because the Toybrary is also a lending library for more than 1,000 educational toys, you can take the fun home with you.
Toybrary’s motto is, “Happy wallets. Happy kids. Less clutter. Less waste.” This model is much easier on your purse strings and living space than regularly buying new toys. Parents also report that children who regularly play with toys that are exchanged are less possessive over their playthings, definitely an added bonus!