I have a tendency to want to sign up T for more enrichment activities than our family schedule can really handle. So far, of all the activities we've tried, there are only two I considered must-do's. One of them was the Parent Education "Wobbler" class at Bellevue College. Other areas probably have something similar. (The other was The Little Gym, which I'll post about some other time.)
We completed the class in May 2011 but I still miss it. It was one thing I looked forward to every Monday morning, and I hated missing it when T was sick or we went out of town.
The class was 2 hours every week for the academic year. They had evening sessions for working parents as well, though we had a few working parents who took a couple of hours off in the morning to attend our session. The kids were in a tight age range (birthdays within 3 months of each other) so we had a readymade "community" of parents with kids the same age.
The space was set up so *everything* was safe for toddlers. In typical Seattle crunchy granola fashion, the toys were either homemade, or of natural materials, and did not light up/make noise. I got tons of great ideas for new toys and activities for T in that class. It was all about sensory exploration, and getting used to other kids. Everyone kept an eye on everyone elses' kids, willingly, so if you had to go to the bathroom, or were in the other room listening to the parent topic, you knew your kid would be safe.
Each week there were two parent education topics - usually one was a nutrition topic with a Registered Dietitian, and the other one was a general parenting topic appropriate to the developmental stage of our kids. They repeated the topics the following week so we had a chance to attend both over 2 weeks.
All of our instructors were fantastic, and loved toddlers. There was a music "circle time", and tons of routine so the toddlers would be comfortable - take off shoes and coat, hello song, snack, always in the same order. There were tons of books, in a cozy "reading corner". There were interesting photos and tactile things on the walls. Almost nothing was off-limits.
Every week there were new toys and activities, though they changed slowly so the toddlers could get comfortable with their environment. So thoughtful! It was all about treating them with respect and most of the topics were centered around raising them in a way that respected and was appropriate for their development. They recommended all sorts of useful parenting books in line with this style.
We had a great group of parents in the class - mostly moms but there were several dads who attended. Visitors were welcome, and my own parents came to observe a few times. I've made a couple of friends there who continue to meet for nights out or the occasional playdate or birthday party.
It sounded expensive up front ($600+) but when I considered it across the whole school year, it wasn't as much per class. And we could probably have skipped some of the other Gymboree, KinderMusik, and other classes we tried out instead.
As a bonus, one of the parents was a great photographer and she got tons of pictures of the kids, which we got on CD at the end of the session. I was so happy about that (you know how I am about photographs!). Here's just one of the great ones we got, with T and a little friend at the light table:
With T in daycare and preschool, I didn't *need* to have her socialize with other kids, but I could see how that would be useful for parents with kids not in childcare.
I don't hesitate to recommend this class - it was such a great source of support with other like-minded local parents, and the instructors were non-judgmental and super helpful. Not to mention, it was just FUN and there was no oversharing of personal details, another pet peeve of mine :) Hooray for babies!