Mommy & Me (and Daddy, Too!)

Classes for parents and kids combine group play with creative learning, allowing children to interact with one another in a safe and comfortable environment in the presence of their parents. Often known as “Mommy & Me”, the idea for interactive one-on-one classes with a parent is relatively new, but Shanghai’s education sector has picked up the trend quickly. TALK found some of the city’s best classes for parents and children to play together and sat down to find out why Mommy & Me classes are important to a child’s development. Dads, don’t forget: Mommy & Me classes don’t discriminate – they’re just fond of alliteration.

Numerous benefits for both the parents and children are attributed to attending Mommy & Me classes. One-on-one play time with children is the most important way for parents to bond with their offspring. Children who don’t bond well with their parents at an early age often suffer from a failure to thrive. Good bonding experiences result in better social skills. Mommy & Me classes are also a great way to introduce little ones to other children in a supervised setting. This form of interaction can encourage creativity, enhance cognitive and social growth and develop motor skills.

Not only do Mommy & Me classes help children, parents can also benefit from their participation. Classes are a great way for them to meet new people who are experiencing the same changes to their lives as they are. Forging new friendships is an important process for new parents and can result in a vital source of support – especially for expats living far from their support network.

Tiny Tots International Preschool and Kindergarten holds Mommy & Me classes three days per week at their French Concession campus for children between 12 and 23 months. The 90-minute 'Tiny Toddlers' class mixes free play time with structured activity, giving the children a variety of stimulation and time to interact. “Mommy & Me classes are really important,” says class teacher Marie Tang. “They provide the basic stepping stones of social interaction for toddlers. And because the children are still with their Mommies, they feel comfortable.”

Tiny Toddlers provides a range of different stimuli for the tots to enjoy. “We have a mat room, a ball pool, sand pit and book beehive,” says Tang. “The children can use all the facilities.” After half an hour of what Tang calls messy fun, it's time for structured activity, which may involve singing or arts and crafts, “We gather in one of the rooms, and get the instruments out or we use Play-Doh, or sometimes shaving cream!” says Tang. “There's lots of finger painting. It's about letting them explore textures and colours.”

Parents at the group praise the positive impact the sessions have had on their children. Jenny, a mother of two from the US, enrolled her youngest in the Tiny Toddlers program. “From the beginning I thought the concept was really smart,” she says. “The hour is broken down into sections so my child participates in a wide range of activities in a short amount of time.”

The Peas and Pods Mommy & Me group meets every second, third and fourth Friday of the month for two hours of stimulating play in Hongqiao. “Peas and Pods is a playgroup that aims to develop positive social interaction between children and their peers,” says group leader Connie Colson. Like Tiny Toddlers, Peas and Pods incorporates group activities, such as singing, with arts and crafts and free play time.

“The first hour is very interactive,” says volunteer helper Anissa Yap-Lee. “We sing and use finger puppets. All the kids and parents get involved.” As well as providing soft toys, instruments and arts and crafts materials, the Peas and Pods group also has a lending library, allowing parents to take books home.

David is one of the few fathers at Peas and Pods. He brings his sons to the group whenever possible, explaining that it “brings the kids out of themselves”. As for being in the male minority, David says, “I’m just a parent like them. I have the same kind of questions. It helps to make connections with people, to compare notes.”

A handful of other Mommy & Me classes around town provide subject specific classes to parents and their little ones. Music Together Puxi helps toddlers learn rhythm, pitch, scales and meter, instilling a love of music in them from an early age. MTP claims that “when given a supportive music environment, children learn to sing and dance as naturally as they learn to walk and talk.” MTP offers classes starting as young as birth to ensure your little one can bring down the house with their pipes.

Gymboree, an American children’s apparel company, also offers classes for toddlers which help them dig deep to find their inner Picasso. Young’uns can dabble in art, music and movement classes. They also have yoga classes for mothers and babies so they can practice the ancient art together.

As well as providing hours of fun for the toddlers, and a welcome relief for parents, evidence shows that regular attendance at parent and child playgroup can make the transition from nursery to school significantly less traumatic for children. Colson agrees: “The transition is made much easier,” she says. “Coming to a group like this definitely eliminates some of the child's fears. There are certainly less tears!”

Find a Mommy & Me Group

Gymboree. Multiple locations around town. Web:

Music Together in Puxi. Tel: 135 2436 7595. Web:

Peas and Pods. Emerald Clubhouse, Green Valley Villas, 999 Jianhe Lu. Web: 

Tiny Tots. 43 Fuxing Lu, near Yongfu Lu. Tel: 6480 8933. Web: