I’ve updated my previous post on baby activities (added a few more gems!) so I’m re-posting it. Here goes.. My baby is growing sooo fast right before my eyes (already over 12 months!!), so before I forget what it’s like to have a baby (sniff), I’m putting up a post on what my favourite baby activities were / are to help you find things to do with your baby so you can get out of the house and talk to *real, live adults* for support, advice, baby talk, non-baby talk, and some good chuckles to warm the soul!
As always, I’d love to hear from you what activities you’d recommend to others, or if you’ve had a good or bad experience with any on my list, or anything else that’s on your mind !
Many Main sites and their satellite locations offer drop-in times specifically for babies (usually 0 – 18 mos). Depending on the location, the drop-ins usually have circle time during the last half hour where a staff member leads the singing. You can also bring baby to the general all age drop-ins which may be called Family Time or Open Door depending on the location. However you may need to watch your baby closely during these drop-ins as the older children (6 years old max) run around and may unintentionally knock over baby or not-so unintentionally take toys away from her! Some Centres have more toys for babies than others so you may need to check around a bit before you find a Centre you like.
There are some OEYC’s listed in the Kids OTG Activity Directory where you can check reviews and photos to help you decide whether to go. (Some Centres won’t allow photos to be taken even when the drop-in is over and the place is empty but I always try!)
Advertised ages: 0- 6 yrs. Even if you have a newborn, it’s great to just get out and hang with other adults and talk to the staff. The staff are very knowledgeable (ECE trained) and you can ask them any questions you like. I’d recommend OEYC’s for babies at any age but again, it really depends on your specific Centre and whether they have a good baby section. My favourite is the Don Valley East OEYC because it’s big, clean, there’s lots of baby toys, a few activity mats for babies to lie on their backs and look up/ bat at toys, and there’s usually a small baby gym setup in back. And the staff are exceptional IMO
Cost: Free! Call your nearby OEYC for details or check their calendar for more information.
*New: Click here for a map of Ontario Early Years Centres in the GTA to find multiple Centres near you!
I’m a huge fan of exposing baby to music early on. It doesn’t matter if you have a bad voice (I sure wasn’t blessed with any kind of singing ability)- your baby will still love it! You will learn lots of kids songs with finger play (i.e. hand motions) or actions (like bouncing baby up and down). These programs are an hour to two hours in length of circle time. Remember to bring a blanket for young baby to lie on in case the carpet/ floor isn’t too clean.
Advertised ages: 0 – 12 mos. I recommend this more for non-mover babies even though I tried it with my baby who had just started crawling. He mostly went to one of the instructors and got bounced around by her, stayed in my lap for a teensy bit, then went exploring around the room again while I sang to someone else’s baby
Cost: Free! (Preregistration is required) Call your nearby OEYC for details or check their calendar for more information. Not all Centres may offer this program.
Advertised ages: 0 – 18 mos. I recommend this more for non-mover babies that still sit on your lap. The program I went to at Agincourt Library had chairs put out for everyone to sit on (the floor didn’t look particularly appetizing for crawling babies). See my review here on Agincourt’s Baby Time.
City of Toronto programs are inexpensive and the instructors have always been great, in my experience. Having said that, there isn’t a whole lot of selection for babies, especially under 6 months and some locations are better than others. For example, I liked taking my babies to Antibes Community Centre in North York, Ellesmere CC in Scarborough, Memorial Pool & Health Club in Etobicoke, and Edgehill House in Etobicoke. I wasn’t a fan of Barbara Frum CC in Toronto (we were in a small room on the lower level with no natural light).
I loved doing baby yoga with both my kids. Classes are around an hour in length. When I took my daughter the class was spent involving the babies for the first half, and the other half was more for the moms. The class I took with my son was mainly for the moms with a short bit at the end involving the babies.
Music classes are usually a half hour to 45 minutes in length and involve circle time with singing and some musical instruments such as shakers, tambourines, and drums. Both my children loved these classes. Even if you have a crawler who won’t sit in your lap while you sing to her (like mine), she will still benefit by visiting other babies and watching other parents and the instructor singing!
For swimming, the classes are a half hour in length and they teach you how to hold baby, help her kick her legs while on her front and back, blow bubbles, and there’s usually some circle time with singing, depending on the instructor. Be forewarned that most City pools have cold water so you may want to put a swim shirt on baby or buy a full length swimsuit. Both my kids were surprisingly okay (I was more bothered by the cool water than them!) but I have seen some babies literally shiver the entire class In that case, you may want to check out one of the City’s warmer pools (e.g. Wallace Emerson CC at Dufferin & Dupont, or Gus Ryder at Kipling & Lakeshore Blvd W) or private pools that have warmer water (e.g. Holland Bloorview at Bayview & Eglinton, or H20 Fit - multiple locations).
Advertised ages: Swimming programs start at 6 mos; Baby yoga and music programs start as young as 1 month.
Cost: Swimming and music classes are about $35 for 9 classes, and yoga is around $60 for 10 classes (Preregistration is required). I’m a big fan of the inexpensive cost so I don’t feel as bad missing a few (or more) classes (baby gets sick, naps aren’t working out well that day, etc.).
Tip: When you’re searching for programs, you can either download the Program List in your area (North York, Toronto & East York, Scarborough, or Etobicoke York), or search online. If you try the online site, then under the Program List, click on Preschool, Early Child, then enter a search term in the Advanced Search below for e.g. yoga or caregiver. For swimming, click on Swimming under the Program List, then Early Child and look for Swim Guardian. You can refine the search results if you know which complex you’d like to go to. If you’re unfamiliar with complexes near you, it can take some time with good ‘ole google maps to find the best place for you.
If you have never registered for a class before with the City Toronto, keep in mind that you will likely need to speak to City of Toronto customer service on the phone, Mon – Fri during business hours, in order to get a Family Number and PIN before you can register for a class online. Make sure you do this prior to the first registration date as spots in certain classes go very quickly!
Art Strollers offers free gallery walking tours for moms with babies in Toronto, including walks in the Distillery District, the Beaches or Riverside area. They’re about 1- 2 hours in length and guided by Crystal Luxmore, founder of Walk TO. If you can go with someone you know- great! If not, there are always moms willing to chit chat while you walk from place to place.
I went on the Riverside tour in the summer – check out my post here. Currently there’s one tour scheduled for March 29, 2012 at the Power Plant, but check back in the spring time for more. Tip: the Distillery District tour is better for children who are walking, if you happen to have an early walker on your hands who doesn’t want to stay in the stroller!
Art Strollers also has art classes for babies as young as 5 months, music classes for 3 month olds and up, and a family photo shoot that takes place while you’re naturally interacting with your baby or working together on an art activity. I’ve never tried it myself but it sounds interesting..
Advertised ages: All babies
Cost: Free! (Preregistration is required)
Indoor playgrounds are great for rainy or cooler weather, when it’s too hot in the summertime or if you just want a change of scenery from your home and think your baby might want to try some new toys and explore new surroundings. I like that I don’t need to check drop-in times like at the OEYC’s. Playgrounds tend to be open at least from 10am- 3pm, if not longer.
Some playgrounds may have exersaucers/ jumperoos, infant playmats and bouncers, and most will offer discounted rates (or free!) for babies under a year. Call ahead to make sure they have toys appropriate for your baby’s age so you aren’t disappointed when you make the trip out. There are many indoor playgrounds in the Kids OTG Activity Directory with photos and reviews. I’d love to hear what you thought of them too!
Advertised ages: Usually at least 6 months & up. Call ahead to make sure there are toys for babies!
Cost: Usually anywhere from free to around $5 until baby hits 1 year. Check out Kids Fun City, All for Fun & Fun for All, and Monkey Magoos for free admission for babies under 1 year (call to confirm in case they have changed their policy recently).
7. Spas with Childcare on Site
This is for mommies who need a break and a bit of pampering (that would be all mommies, right?!). These spas provide child care while you get a massage or a spa treatment done: Sunny Mummy Spa in Downtown Toronto, Bayview Sheppard RMT in North York, Alma Natural Quick Spa in Midtown Toronto, and Totto Salon & Spa and The Ten Spot Spa in Toronto’s East End. Try to time the spa with your baby’s nap if he’s still napping in a car seat or stroller. If your baby has already started to object to being left with strangers then you may want to wait until he’s older (or get a babysitter instead) or your spa treatment may be suddenly interrupted by loud crying (like mine was)! Check here for my earlier post on my experience at the Sunny Mummy Spa!
Advertised ages: All babies (from infant and up)
Cost: Spa treatments and massages at a reasonable rate with child care usually in the cost (double-check this when you make your appointment in case things have changed!).
8. Playgrounds, Splash Pads & Wading Pools
Give your little one some fresh air and a chance to explore in the summer time! Many playgrounds have baby swings, and you can find a splash pad or wading pool in Toronto by clicking here. My little guy loved the small water jets at Pottery Playground in Davisville and both my kids had a blast at the wading pool in Bronte Creek Provincial Park. Water toys such as pails and shovels, watering cans, inflatable swim rings (you can buy ones that have a seat in it so baby can sit there while you push her around), and balls are a must to help entertain baby. Don’t forget baby’s sun hat, sunblock (if old enough to have it on), and a swim shirt!
Recommended ages: All babies (who can at least sit by themselves) & up
Cost: Free at City parks; At provincial parks there is a parking fee and may be an admission charge to the water area (at Bronte Creek it’s $16 for parking, and pool admission is $2-3 pp & free for children under 4 years).
*New: If you live in Toronto, click here for a handy map of playgrounds, splash pads and wading pools near you.
Did you know that some theatres have show times specifically for parents with babies (called Stars and Strollers)?
They dim the lights so you can still see your baby and they turn the volume down. I’ve been to the one at the Queensway and they put out a table so you can change your baby in the middle of the movie without leaving the theatre. If your baby starts crying, you don’t have to worry because you’re in a theatre full of people in the same boat as you. And you can park your stroller right where you come in, in front of the first row. So convenient! And you get a $2 discount off admission (your baby or child must be under 2 years of age to get the discount).
The downside is that options are limited. The participating theatres have Stars and Strollers only once a week for two different movies on at the same time (typically on a Wednesday or Thursday around 1pm). Tip: Take your infant when s/he is still young enough to sleep peacefully in a car seat with noise around them. :-)
You can check Cineplex’s website for participating theatres and show times near you by entering your postal code.
And here are other things to do that I’ve heard people like but I’ve never had a chance to try myself:
10. Salsa Babies
Your baby needs to be in a carrier and strapped to your chest for this class. I’ve heard a lot of babies will just sleep in the carrier while you do some salsa dancing!
Advertised ages: 6- 8 weeks and up (When your baby is young and still doesn’t weight too much, but old enough to be strapped in a carrier.) Note there’s also Salsa for Tots!
Cost: 6 week course is $110, 8 week course is $147
Toronto Public Health offers many programs from how to interact with your baby (Living & Learning with Baby) to how to feed your baby with nutritious foods. Their phone line is usually busy in my experience but you can call your closest Ontario Early Years Centre or Public Library for information as the programs are usually offered there. At least they should be able to give you the name and phone number (and extension!) of someone to speak to who is organizing the programs in your area.
Advertised ages: 6 mos – 6 yrs
Cost: Free! (Preregistration is required)
I hear La Leche meetings are good for information on breastfeeding (of course) and how to introduce solids to your baby. They also give you a chance to socialize with other moms and your baby can have a chance to interact with other babies.
Advertised ages: All babies
TDSB Parenting and Family Literacy Centres offer a fun, play-based program to support children’s early learning and development and a place for parents to learn and connect with each other. Each Centre has a schedule which includes music and story time, snack time, art activities, sand and water play, dramatic play, grossmotor play, puzzles and a time to use simple and inexpensive learning materials which can be replicated at home,and are designed to develop literacy and numeracy concepts necessary for kindergarten entry”. There are a total of 76 Centres that are free to the community. Hours vary by site and no preregistration is required.
Advertised ages: 0- 6 years.
Growing Up Healthy Downtown offers parent relief, a variety of workshops, community kitchens as well as fitness and post-natal programs for moms and their babies. We deliver school readiness programs, reading circles and drop-ins for caregivers with their children. See below for a list of programs offered.
There are 8 participating locations in the downtown Toronto area: Harbourfront Community Centre (Queens Quay West & Bathurst), St. Christopher House (Dundas St W & Ossington), Dixon Hall (Queen St E & River), Family Service Toronto (Gerrard St E & Church), University Settlement Recreation Centre (Dundas St W & University), WoodGreen Community Services (Queen St E & Pape Ave), Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood Centre (Davenport & Lansdowne), and The 519 Church Street Community Centre (Church & Wellesley St E).
Advertised ages: 0- 6 years.