Ten babies coo and gurgle as soap bubbles waft across the room.
They're giggling and reaching out to touch the bubbles. The surprise on little faces is comical when an exploring finger connects and pops the bubble. Where did it go?
Occupational therapist (OT) Lynsey Taylor brings colourful puppets out of her props box, and sings and makes the puppets dance. The babies are drawn to the sound and movement, crawling, rolling, tummy-swimming their way towards the fun.
Their mums have brought the babies to Palmerston North Parents Centre's move to music classes. Ms Taylor, an English OT who has been in Palmerston North for seven years, says the songs and dances might look like fun and games, and they are - but the babies are also working flat out, honing balance, perception, and minor and gross motor movement skills.
The classes have been running for several years at Square Edge, with Community Arts Palmerston North manager John Barnes pleased to offer secular education and development for under-5s, using music and dance movements. It fits with Community Arts' ethos, he says.
Ms Taylor brings out a large, bright-coloured parachute and the mums help spread it over the floor. The babies are popped underneath it, parents holding the light fabric well above them, and swirling it up and down.
"Perception again, helped by being under something," says Ms Taylor. The exercises are more than bouncing around to music by The Wiggles. That's fun too, but Ms Taylor teaches parents exercises to help their babies' development.
There's a lot of expertise behind the movements, designed to improve children's co-ordination, balance, depth perception, and brain development.
"I want these babies reaching out, moving and exploring," she says. "Our children are so static now, compared with 20 years ago . . . our recreations have become more sedentary.
"It's a fact that our children thrive when their physical confidence is good."
The classes aren't about accelerating development, or creating prodigies. "The children aren't necessarily forward in their development for their age dates. But they do hit their milestones as they should."
The classes are especially good for first-time parents, who might not have had much experience with babies.
"We put newborns on Swiss Balls, and rock them very gently. It helps their inner ear . . . the exercises are all safe and controlled . . . sometimes first-time parents can be a bit daunted, not quite knowing what to do with a baby."
Ms Taylor's been working with music and exercise for preschoolers for years, at creches, in people's homes, and with special-needs children. She trained at Christ Church University at Canterbury in England.
Parents Centre co-president Jessica Howard says the baby classes were started to offer members something extra, and the original babies have graduated into a separate toddlers' class for 1- to-3-year-olds.
"I expect we'll start a third class soon, as those toddlers progress," Ms Howard says.
Parents Centre started more than 30 years ago in Palmerston North, to offer expectant parents informed choice about childbirth.
It runs eight-week antenatal classes for groups of parents whose babies are due about the same time.
"We'd run perhaps 20 sets of classes a year.
"We set groups up with a Facebook page, so they can easily keep in touch."
Lynsey Taylor's move to music classes are on Tuesdays, 9.30am for 1-to 3-year-olds and 10.30am for under-1s at Square Edge. Parent Centre members get a discount. More information about enrolling is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- Manawatu Standard
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