Walk into one of the Beasts classes at the Little Gym of Merrick and this is what you'll find: 18-month-old Kaylee Sandurs of Massapequa Park giggling as she tumbles on the big play mat. Parker Schulman, 2, of Oceanside holding his mom's hand as he delicately walks along the balance bar. And 2-year-old Keira Toy of East Meadow chasing bubbles at the gym, along with 11 other Long Island kids and their parents.
The classes, led by owners Evan and Eileen Marrow, take a different approach than traditional "mommy and me" classes. "It's a curriculum-based structure," Evan Marrow says. "We offer classes for kids 4 months to 12 years old where they'll learn new skills while having fun with their parents and peers."
Stacey Sandurs enjoys the special time she spends with her daughter Kaylee during the Beasts class, which is geared for kids 18 to 24 months. "I'm a teacher, so as a working mother I want to do things with her on the weekends," says Sandurs. "These classes are a safe environment where we can have fun together and she can socialize with other kids her age. Kaylee is much more confident now and has learned to do so much, like tumbling, since we've signed up for these classes."
Keira's mother, Amy Toy, agrees. "We've been members of the Little Gym of Merrick for more than a year, and what I like most about this program is that it's more than just physical activity," Toy says. "The kids learn a new skill each class, whether it's following the leader or counting while bouncing a ball, plus they practice sign language and learn a new word of the day."
These days, typical mommy and me classes are not just for kids and their moms. There are dads, grandparents, guardians and caregivers, too. And there are myriad options -- from cooking classes to yoga sessions -- to help you bond with your children while having fun. Here are a few.
AGES 2 to 3
COST $375 for 10-week session
WHAT TO EXPECT The Mommy/Daddy and Me cooking class lets you assist your little one while he or she becomes comfortable cooking, is introduced to new foods and learns about kitchen safety. "These cooking classes will build your child's social and fine- motor skills to help them flourish in nursery school," says owner Lynne Gerald. Here's a taste of some of the recent foods prepared in class: funny-face pizza with veggies, blueberry yogurt pancakes and fruit in a cone with honey.
BONUS Check website for specials.
THE LITTLE GYM OF MERRICK
AGES 4 months to 12 years
COST Annual family membership is $40; class tuition is $107.10 a month
WHAT TO EXPECT "Oh, everyone please clap your hands and sing along with me. How do you do, Beastie Beasts, how do you do, how do you do," sings Evan Marrow during Circle Time at one of the Beasts classes for kids 18 to 24 months. Each age-appropriate activity, depending on the class, helps develop balance and coordination by tumbling, hopping, jumping and exercising. Plus, they will help foster listening and life skills such as sharing, working in a group, following the leader, bubble play and more.
BONUS Try an introductory class for free. And, three to five times a year is "Bring a Friend" week; if your friend enrolls, you'll both be rewarded.
THE ORIGINAL MOMMY AND ME
AGES 4 months to 2 years
COST $285 for 16 classes
WHAT TO EXPECT Bring your baby (4 to 12 months) to the Baby Playgroup, where you'll enjoy a half-hour of free play time so your child can explore and interact with other children. For the next hour, you'll participate in activities such as music and singing, snack time, bubbles, parachute play and more. The Toddler Class (for walkers up to age 2) has the same basic components of the baby playgroup; it adds more age-appropriate activities, such as Felt Board, Calendar Time, Movement to Music, as well as arts and crafts. "We also provide Daddy and Me Nights," says April Langella, owner of the Holtsville location. "Even though dads are encouraged to come to our regular classes, these special sessions cover the same types of activities, but instead of a snack, they'll get pizza and a beverage." This class is $20 for 90 minutes.
BONUS Try a class for free or head over every other Friday for open play days, which are $5 for anyone.
BREATHE 'N FLOW YOGA
AGES Up to age 2
COST $89 a month, unlimited; $110 for a 10-class pass; $20 Mommy & Me drop-in
WHAT TO EXPECT The Baby & Me class offers parents and their infants and toddlers a way to bond while exploring the benefits of a family yoga practice, says owner Leah Hartofelis. You'll participate in a combination of yoga poses, breathing techniques, strengthening and relaxing movements while holding your baby, as well as baby massage and yoga play.
BONUS Family class pass two-week trial for only $25. Check website for monthly specials.
AGES 1 to 4 years
COST Membership is required; prices starting at $60 for an eight-week class.
WHAT TO EXPECT The Youth Movement programs are geared toward building strength, confidence and life skills. Classes include Parents Can Play Too and Tumble Bugs. "Our classes provide structure as well as free time in order to allow children to use their imaginations," says Sue Rassekh, director of the YMCA Bay Shore. Classes range from 45 to 90 minutes. In addition to physical activities, you can choose swimming, arts and crafts, cooking, music, science, fine arts and yoga.
BONUS Call the members service desk to participate in a class before registering.
AGES 2 months to 3 years
COST Prices starting at $120 for a six-class session
WHAT TO EXPECT Splash around with your kids in heated pools while learning water safety skills to help them develop a love for water early. Small group classes offer a way for you and your child to meet other parents and children. Kids will learn to kick, paddle, blow bubbles and more. "Parents are often amazed at just how much their babies get out of the lessons," says Jim Hazen, president and owner of Saf-T-Swim.
BONUS There are weekly/monthly specials all the time; check website for more information.
Find more mommy and me classes on Long Island.