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Got a baby? Get a life
Family Music Makers integrates sound and movement in Wellesley. Sessions are held throughout Greater Boston. (Globe Staff Photo / Suzanne Kreiter)   Photo Gallery More photos

Got a baby? Get a life

You're a hip little one. You know where to toddle on the town, where to be seen and be weaned. Tell mom and dad: Spare me the pacifier and let's go! Boston's a bassinet full of fun for the newborn set. Art, music, dance, theater - we've got it all, baby! For newborn parents, now's the time to join in and enjoy your perfect creation as he or she learns what the cultured life is all about.

The Seattle sound, reborn

As a dozen toddlers attack bells, whistles, rattles, shakers, drums, and tambourines, the cacophony rivals any '90s garage band. Chubby fingers firmly grasp instruments. It's obvious they're here to wail - in a good way. Family Music Makers director Alice Gollan, who taught elementary school music, created this program in 1995 with help from Japanese music educator Shinichi Suzuki, Swiss musicologist Jacques Dalcroze, and Dr. Frank Gollan, her dad, whom she credits with introducing her to ``the joy at the heart of making music.''

The result is a fun, community-minded environment where adults learn to let go and have fun with music while their tots learn by imitation.

``The first word of our name is family, so I felt the repertoire should be engaging for all members,'' Gollan says. ``Most parents don't feel they're musical or can sing, so they feel they can't teach it to their kids. That's what we do, we help families bond and become musical.'' Setting the rhythm for today's class, spirited instructor Tina Jacas says, ``We don't have a lot of rules in here. It's a safe place to be silly, and they'll get that message mostly from you.''

Through an odyssey of tunes and dance movements, Jacas leads the class with a mix of classical, bluegrass, klezmer, rock, as well as traditional children's songs. Some original recordings that big kids will find hilarious: the words to Jimi Hendrix's ``Foxy Lady'' become ``Fussy Baby,'' and a rap version of ``This Little Piggy.'' Rainbow-colored CD and songbook study aids accompany each class and help to reinforce concepts at home.

Sessions run six to 10 weeks at various locations around Boston. Call Family Music Makers 617-783-9818 or visit www.familymusicmakers.com.

Skip, hop, learn

``If your job today is adjusting to Kindermusik, that's OK, you're still getting lots of information,'' says instructor Evan Haller as he nods and smiles to the mother of a restless little boy. The rest of the group of parents and offspring are merrily bounding out with brightly colored scarfs. An energetic new father himself, Haller takes these knee-highs through a rhythmic play time every Thursday morning at Blissful Monkey Yoga Studio in Jamaica Plain. Moms, dads, and other caregivers hang out with their young, while Haller mixes movement activities and animated songs designed to help wee ones set their own patterns of behavior. Most important, they learn in an informal way how much fun music can be, especially when it's something they can enjoy together with their parents.

A Berklee School of Music graduate and licensed Kindermusik instructor, Haller has always enjoyed working with kids. It shows. ``What I'm trying to do is have fun,'' he says. ``I like the fact that you're having fun and you're learning, but not, you know, learning. The kids don't realize their working their gross motor skills or language development, all they know is that they're having fun.'' Started in the 1960s by music educators in West Germany, Kindermusik is a music and movement curriculum that has spread worldwide.

Katie McQuade says it has made a difference for Cole, her 2-year-old son. Instead of becoming anxious and upset at the prospect of change, he now has a way to cope. ``It was really hard for him to transition in general, to change from one thing to another. Singing the `Goodbye Song' here really helps outside of class. We now do it in other places he doesn't want to leave. We sing, `Goodbye park, goodbye slide.' ''

Infant class Wednesdays 9-10 a.m.; toddlers 10-11 a.m. 663 Centre St., Jamaica Plain. #39 bus on MBTA route. Call 617-522-4411 or visit www.blissfulmonkey.com or www.kindermusik.com for area classes.

Color me beautiful

``Honey, please don't put the brush in your in mouth.'' ``Honey, please don't put the brush in your mouth.'' ``Honey please . . .'' Ah, the sensory experiences of which a child's early life is made. On one level or another, the Messy Sensory Art Studio at the Smith Family PlaySpace in the Children's Museum speaks to us all. As one mother commented, ``Do it here because we're not doing it at home.''

Eat it or paint with it? The age-old question is debated in a newly expanded, pint-sized atelier that provides aesthetic stimulation through clay, textiles, and foam, plus tubs for water and sand play. Creative handouts abound, including a recipe for homemade playdough.

``We really encourage people to come with their child, to paint, and explore why this is important,'' says Ann Marie Stephan, PlaySpace manager. ``Even if it seems very messy, you can learn a lot about your child's strengths and preferences by watching them learn.''

Finished masterpieces hang to dry around the bright, inviting space complete with small tables, chairs, and a miniature sink.

The art studio is part of PlaySpace, an assembly of primary-colored, make-believe sets, including a mock tree house, big car and for infants, a huge ``crib'' area with soft steps, cushy textured surfaces, and a little waterbed to safely crawl around on. PlaySpace also offers the Family Resource Center, which is loaded with books, magazines, and newsletters on pediatric care and development, plus access to the web.

Also available: a homey, semi-private nook for nursing, and a small kitchen.

Drop in weekdays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday until 8 p.m. Adults $9, children ages 2-15 and senior citizens $7, 1-year-olds $2, infants under 1 free. Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m. admission is $1 per person. The Children's Museum, 300 Congress St., Boston. Call 617-426-8855 or visit www.bostonkids.org.

Stage one

``It's a small theater, so it helps her maintain focus,'' says Thorunn Zimmerman at Tot Theatre at the Puppet Showplace with her 2-year-old daughter, Ella. ``We've been to other shows that were too big, then it's hard on her. She just wants to run around, but it works here because it's so intimate. That really makes the difference.'' Twice a week, this Brookline-based children's and adults' puppet theater offers shows geared for a peanut-size gallery.

The mainstage is a cozy denlike space, decorated with puppets from past productions, nostalgic show posters, and plenty of wooden benches. Parents are free to exit and return to the seats as the needs of their offspring arise (try that at the ART).

On this snowy March morning, Deborah Constine of Gerwick Puppets applies her delicate silhouettes and personable storytelling style to ``Billy Goats Gruff'' and ``The Three Little Pigs.'' As she hovers over the castle set, she asks tiny ticket holders, ``Do you know what a troll is?'' And while their attention flies from wide-eyed enchantment to fits of antsy-ness, what's key is that two generations of theater-goers participate.

``It's important for children to experience live theater as a family,'' says Karen Larsen, artistic director. ``There are so few things families do together these days that involve live performance, and more often than not it's at a very large venue like the Wang Center, which is great, but here you can go right up the performer afterward and talk to them.''

Puppet Showplace recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Wednesday and Thursday at 10:30 a.m. Weekend puppet shows offered. Admission $8.50. 32 Station St., Brookline. MBTA Brookline Village Green line. Call 617-731-6400 or visit www.puppetshowplace.org.

``Rattle at the Brattle''

The Brattle Theatre, a Cambridge institution in Harvard Square, has been offering baby-friendly blockbuster screenings since January 2002 for movie buffs and their newborns. The screenings are the brainchild of a former theater employee who, after she gave birth, realized how hard it would be to get through a movie with an occasionally fussy tot in tow.

Based on a Canadian model that uses soundproof screening rooms, the infant-inviting revue has been a hit. The theater offers stroller-sized access via a secret elevator. Lights are kept half-on under the balcony as a soothing zone. ``The goal of it was to get parents of newborn babies to have a less alienating transition between their former life and their new life and be able to meet people in the community,'' says Ivy Moylan, co-director of the Brattle.

``There are so many events organized around children starting as soon as you become a parent that you start to feel like a second-class citizen next to your child,'' Moylan said. ``So it was also to give parents the understanding that their whole life isn't going to be consumed by the child. They can have personal time and still be a parent.''

For an optimum cinematic experience, bring baby in a bassinet, sling, or other small carrier. The Brattle has free screenings every Wednesday at 1 p.m. On April 28, they're showing ``Love Actually.'' 40 Brattle St., Cambridge. Red line to Harvard Square. Call 617-876-6837 or visit www.brattlefilm.org.

Babies and bubbles

Bubbles are mesmerizing. Watching toddlers reach out to touch or simply gaze at a flotilla of gently wafting, soapy spheres, it's no wonder that, a similar pleasure can be found, albeit later in life, in a glass of champagne. A barrage of bubbles is part of Kimbell DiCero's Movers and Groovers agenda. For 90 minutes, DiCero keeps the diaper gang learning, playing, and interacting - moms and dads, too. ``Today, it's all about gross and fine motors skills, isn't it?'' she says, pointing out a tow-headed boy puzzling over blue and yellow stacking bowls. Bowl goes in, bowl goes out, bowl goes in, bowl goes out.

DiCero holds a bachelor's degree in developmental psychology and a master's in early intervention, and has years' experience with young ones. At class end, she leads a Q&A with caregivers on topics such as eating, sleeping, and other basics.

Babies advance through class levels starting with ``New Beginnings'' and moving on to ``Movers and Groovers'' and ``Social Butterflies.''

Julie Vasil, mother of Lucy, 11 months, gives the curriculum an ``A.'' ``I started coming here to meet other mothers,'' she says. ``It really keeps you sane. That was the best thing, just getting out of the house. At first, I really didn't know what was going on with her, she would sit there next to me the whole time, but I can see now that she's really starting to connect and learn.''

Classes are held throughout the week. Isis Maternity, 2 Brookline Place. Green line to Brookline Village. Call 617-264-4747 or visit www.isismaternity.com.

In every womb: Om

The Moms with Babies Yoga class at Beacon of Light is a garden of enchantment, a place new parents and babies can stretch their bodies and souls. Four-month-old Skylar is here with his mother, certified Kripalu yoga instructor Corinna Hall, and on the next mat over is Jen Marie Nelson, Hall's mother and a longtime yoga enthusiast herself.

``I grew up around my mom's practice,'' Hall says. ``It was something she did every day. I rebelled in my teens and then came back to it, meditating on the idea that if I trusted the universe to catch me, I'd become a yoga teacher and have a baby.''

On a rain-drenched morning, moms (dads are invited, too) and month-olders have gathered in this restful, lavender-colored studio complete with gentle reminders like ``Peace'' and ``Breathe Deeply,'' pasted on the ceiling. To placid, movement-conducive music, Hall leads the class through an hour of yoga poses for parents' abdominal and core strengthening, some of which use baby as a ``live'' weight, and relaxation and breathing techniques. Then there's a demonstration of infant massage. (It's hard to tell who loves this more, mom or newborn). Class ends with three chants of ``Om,'' which seems to have an hypnotic effect on the little ones.

``I love that it gives time to pay attention to me while I'm paying attention to my baby,'' says new mother Rebecca Serlin. ``Corinna will say something like, `Make sure your shoulders aren't up at your ears,' and I'll notice mine are way up there. And [the class provides] different ways to move the baby's body, like hands to toes. I never realized she could do that and she loves it.''

Moms with Babies Yoga, Thursday 10-11 a.m. $60 for four sessions, sign up at the beginning of the month. Beacon of Light Yoga, 215 Brighton Ave., Boston. Call 617-739-0717 or visit www.beaconlightyoga.com.

The art of skipping

As if out of a Maxfield Parrish print, lithe Dicki Johnson leads her young, tunic-draped charges and their adults as they skip around a rainbow-colored parachute. To the untrained eye, it's child's play, but this second-generation Isadora Duncan-trained dance therapist is motivating and directing cognitive development.

The rainbow, the slide, the scarves, running like horses, flying like birds, shaking, stomping, starting, stopping, all these fun, imagination-based activities make up ``Duncan Dance.'' They disguise a course of rhythmic movements to classic tempos designed to foster respect for community and self. A mother of three, Johnson is vested in healthy growth. ``With video games and computers, kids don't get outside and figure things out on their own,'' she says. ``And the whole competitive spirit. `If my kid doesn't do this or this, he's not going to keep up,' and that's gotten so much worse. We live in a political and social environment that doesn't support being calm and connected.

``This program helps to re-create ritual with circle concepts, having them working cooperatively. In the last 10 years, there's been this appreciation, that whatever we've been doing, it's not working.'' Each exercise, from petting small plush animals to bundling and tossing scarfs, helps children regulate their movement in a thoughtful way.

Kevin Engleman, with his honey-haired 2-year-old, Alexander, says, ``We've adopted one or two patterns that we've learned here.'' One excerise Engleman finds helpful involves starting and stopping dancing to music. ``Once in a while we use it at home: And he recognizes it, and it works. Mostly he just enjoys it a great deal.''

Duncan Dance, for children 18 months to 3 years old. Tuesday, 10-11 a.m. Classes for older children throughout the week. Dance Complex, 536 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. Red line to Central Square. Call 617-547-9363 or visit www.dancecomplex.org. 

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