With an energetic toddler, I am always on the lookout for fun classes and play groups to entertain and engage my little one, so when new play centre BabySteps invited Sassy Mama to try out one of their classes, I immediately put my hand up for the job!
I set out on a Friday afternoon to check out the classes, with an excited toddler in tow. After a bit of trouble finding the BabySteps centre (I blame this on Google maps, although it would be helpful if they could provide a detailed map on their site as well), we then discovered that the escalator up from Wyndham was out of order. Total fail. Thankfully, the BabySteps team was super helpful and popped out to help me carry my buggy (and sleeping toddler) up to Arbuthnot Road.
My first impressions were very pleasantly surprised: the space was clean, brightly lit and spacious. They’ve clearly invested time and thought into making a very inviting space for little ones and parents alike. My 16-month old daughter, Bea, woke up and within minutes was off playing with the assistant teacher, clearly impressed with the abundance of toys on offer.
As well as a large play space (to warm up the little ones before their classes) there’s a relaxation area at BabySteps, with soft cushions that can be used for feeding/breastfeeding, and a self-service pantry which was stocked with just about anything you might need. I tried to steer my daughter away from the piles of Oreos to the bowl of juicy apples, which seemed to work. They also have nappies and wipes, water and juices, some baby food, high chairs and a bottle warmer available.
This communal space, including all of the toys and facilities on offer, are open to all BabySteps users and cleaned hourly. They certainly had the feeling of being brand spanking new and super hygienic. Sometimes as a parent you want to wipe playgroup toys down yourself, but even the most fastidious of parent would have no concerns here!
After five/ten minutes of ‘warming up’ before your class starts, you are taken through to one of the three classrooms, which benefit from dimmer, more natural lighting. This is where the therapeutic sessions take place, where participants can choose from Play Therapy, Art Therapy, Baby Massage, Sign Language and Music Therapy, catering to ages from 0-6 years old.
We tried both the Music Therapy and Play Therapy classes, and although it was a bit of a whirlwind introduction to both, Bea enjoyed them enormously. The therapists and assistants at BabySteps are very natural with babies and children (which is not always a given in baby centres!). They obviously love to be around little ones and genuinely interacted and played with Bea the whole time we were there. They clearly have a passion for what they are doing.
First off we were introduced to Fernando Fracassi, their music therapist who hails from Italy. Fernando has pioneered (and patented) a method called Linguistic Development and Music (LDM), and is bringing it to Asia for the first time here in Hong Kong. Fernando’s classes include exploring instruments and music to develop your little one’s musicality, cognitive behaviour and social skills. Bea was encouraged to pick up and play musical instruments, exploring the sounds, shapes and noises each of them made under Fernando’s guidance. She also got up and danced, which Fernando joined in with!
As well as enjoying her introduction to music therapy, in the long term, the LDM method is supposed to help with memory, learning, intelligent and emotional listening, mental stimulation, socialisation, and relaxation, which all sound like a huge benefit to me.
We then met Aisling McDonnell, who leads the play therapy course. Aisling is a lively, fast-talking Irish play therapist who believes in principles based on psychology like behaviour mirroring. In the ‘hot house’ atmosphere of Hong Kong, she described her classes as time for the children to unwind, relax and reconnect with playing, and just enjoy being children! The Play Therapy session generally includes independent play, a story, songs, crafts or messy play, giving little ones a chance to explore and learn about themselves.
There was a lot of the ‘individual’ mentioned at BabySteps (with little ones being able to get up, walk around and pick up another toy/instrument during the sessions) and I would imagine for the parent looking for a more structured or spoon-fed approach that this might not be the best course for them. I saw the value in having a space where Bea can just well, be. There’s also the cost to take into consideration: at $450 for an hour-long session (depending on your package) it’s on the slightly more expensive side even for Hong Kong, but then again, if you wanted an hour with a private play/music therapist you’re looking at upwards of $700!
So how can you tell if BabySteps is right for you? Well, their differentiating factor over traditional playgroups is that they offer a therapeutic approach to play and learning with class sizes limited to eight, which is unique in Hong Kong. And I found all of their therapists to be extremely passionate about this. They truly believe that this promotes individualism, self-awareness and a love of learning. All of this is carried out in a very relaxed and inclusive way so that you as a parent feel like you are very much part of the process and involved, not just sitting on the sidelines waiting for the hour to be up. With a free trial on offer, BabySteps is definitely worth a visit. This might be exactly what you were looking for!
BabySteps is hosting an official Launch Party / Open Day at their centre this Sunday, 8th February 2015, 2pm-4pm. Meet the team, let your little ones test out the play equipment and take part in a lucky draw. To reserve your spot or inquire about scheduling a free trial class, email Caroline Koo and her team at [email protected].
BabySteps, 25F, 2501-02, Universal Trade Centre, 3-5A Arbuthnot Road, Central, www.babysteps.com.hk