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Class has a good beat, and you can dance to it

By KATHERINE SNOW SMITH

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000


There's a new dance and music program in St. Petersburg for parents looking for something fun to do with their infants and toddlers. Musik Garten, an early childhood class, has started at Right Step Studio on Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) Street N.

I took my 20-month-old, Charlotte, to try it out, and we had a ball. I'll be honest, she doesn't know a march from a tiptoe. She dropped the rhythm sticks as often as she tapped them. And the floor-to-ceiling wall mirror was a big distraction, beckoning her to run her little body as fast as she could right up to it.

But she laughed, sang, danced, ran, twirled, cuddled in my lap and had 30 minutes straight when she was the only thing on my mind. Being the second child of a mother who works out of the house, this isn't a frequent experience.

I've said before if these early childhood activities, be they play group, tumbling class, reading hours or music, help our children develop their balance, take in new words, appreciate the arts, learn rhythm or anything else, that's icing on the cake. But I think the best benefit of activities such as Musik Garten is that it's time you and your child share without siblings, phone calls, work, dirty dishes or the dog urinating on the rug again.

"There is a real emphasis on parent and child bonding, playing together and having fun with music," said Musik Garten teacher Arlene Norman. She became licensed to teach the nationally syndicated program after attending a seminar in August. Along with Norman, who owns Right Step Studio, educators from Sarasota were taking the class so they can teach Musik Garten in Head Start and Early Start there.

The class we sat in on consisted of about 10 different songs, each with a different activity. The children and mothers touched their noses, toes, heads, etc. on cue. We danced with a scarf and played peek-a-boo. We tapped our children's backs in rhythm with the music.

We marched, walked and tiptoed in a circle singing: "Sally go 'round the sun. Sally go 'round the moon. Sally go 'round the chimney top every afternoon." At the end of each chorus, everybody sits down. Each time Charlotte quickly scanned the room to make sure everybody was sitting, then broke into a big smile when she saw we were all in sync.

Then we had "free dance," moms partnered with children, to Mozart. Some held hands, some cuddled their child in their arms. Some children were near sleep, while others were swinging their arms and twirling wildly.

"Some people think Mozart makes babies smarter," Norman told us. "I'm not sure about that, but it sure is fun music to dance to."

Mothers at the class aren't expecting it to spawn genius composers or prima ballerinas. But they do think it's a stimulating activity they can share with their child. When I asked Kathy Parker why she was signing up her 18-month-old son, Drew, she answered: "Because he's a third child."

With older siblings 4 and 6, Drew tags along to their school, their soccer, their friends' houses. He gets little time to do his own thing with Mom or younger children. "I just wanted him to have something with his own age group," Parker said.

"My son isn't in day care, so I like getting him around other kids," said Delania Branham, who is taking the class with 22-month-old Cole.

The class we visited had just six children, so it was enough for that important socialization but didn't create a loud, overwhelming crowd for the little ones. Classes have met just once, so Norman welcomes additional students. She offers two courses: Baby's Musical World for infants to 18-month-olds; and Clap With Me for 18-month-olds to 23-month-olds. The charge is $120 for 12 weeks, which includes a CD and various musical instruments such as bells, shakers and rhythm sticks.

Classes are offered Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. and 10:20 a.m.; Mondays, 4:15 p.m. and 5 p.m., and Tuesdays, 10:45 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Call 821-9420 for more information.

* * *

Bargain hunters, prepare! The Mother's Outreach Movement's annual Children's Clothing Sale is Saturday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church Parish Hall, 1600 54th Ave. S.

The sale of "gently used" children's items has been going on for 21 years. This year's sale chairwoman, Susan Wannemacher, touted some of the deals she's come home with from past sales such as 75-cent Batman pajamas and pink and black leotards with skirts for 25 cents each. Her personal favorite was a pair of size 6 Nautica pants with the Jacobson's $68 price tag still on. She paid $4.

Along with clothing, the sale also features shoes, toys, children's furniture, strollers, books and maternity clothes. Anyone who wants to sell items can pay a $5 registration fee, tag and price their things, and work a four-hour shift at the sale. Vendors get 85 percent of their sales, with 15 percent going to the Mother's Outreach Movement. The group supports local charities throughout the year. For more information, call Wannemacher at 906-9269.

- You can reach Katherine Snow Smith by e-mail at Oliviachar@aol.com; or write Rookie Mom, St. Petersburg Times, PO Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731; or call (727) 822-7225.

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