Insights on keeping little ones active
Never has the phrase “young at heart” been more personified than in Rae Paterson. As an experienced gym instructor, with a background in childcare and maternity nursing, Rae consolidated her skills when she launched Mini Muscles, a series of activity classes for babies and toddlers. Inherently passionate about developing confidence, encouraging positive social interaction and challenging children to reach their full physical potential, Rae has been teaching classes for newborns to four-year-olds in Wanaka, Queenstown and Cromwell for nearly 15 years. It’s a role that requires bucketloads of energy, compassion and even more patience – but Rae says her job is a dream come true.
What is Mini Muscles?
Mini Muscles is a non-profit community organisation which runs three activity classes for different age groups and abilities; one for newborns and pre-crawling babies, one for crawlers/under twos, and one for two- to fouryear-olds. The young baby session is all about education – parents can learn about brain development and its link to movement, and we encourage babies to move freely without restrictions. For the crawlers, we set up a safe environment of different surfaces, various heights and challenges which build confidence – as well as those fabulous brain connections – and allow children to explore and move from one space to another. In the toddler class we encourage a lot of natural movement, which is important these days as many kids are growing up in urban properties with nowhere to climb, run or explore. This class helps them to develop upper-body strength and practise jumping, landing, rolling, hopping, balancing and hanging in a safe place.
How was the Mini Muscles idea conceived?
I wanted to combine my gymnastic knowledge with the skills I had gained while working with babies. My mother, Nola, is my inspiration – she’s been instrumental in developing movement programmes for preschoolers in Dunedin and is still involved at 86 years old.
Why do you love working with babies and children?
Hanging out with babies reminds me of what’s important in life – I love nothing more than sharing in their discoveries and happiness in play. I was nearly 42 when my own daughter was born and it’s been the most amazing thing ever!
What have you learned about babies and children at Mini Muscles?
Little ones need their parents to spend more time thinking about the world from a child’s perspective. Parents need to put away their phones, lay down on the floor and just hang out with their kids. It’s not always necessary to “teach” your children things – just enjoy them and celebrate what they can do, not what they are yet to learn.
Rae’s thoughts on …
BLOSSOMING PERSONALITIES: Sometimes kids are labelled as “shy” by their parents, but they just need more time to observe and take in their environment. On the other hand, some babies and toddlers are naturally more outgoing and physically adventurous. I encourage parents not to describe their children as being shy in front of them – adults take time to adjust to new situations and children need the same understanding and respect.
DEVELOPING PHYSICAL CONFIDENCE: There are many factors that affect physical development and confidence. If a baby has more body mass, sometimes they will take longer to move and roll. A baby with older siblings may be content to lay and watch or be carried, therefore movement can be slower to develop. Sometimes I find the clothes a baby is dressed in can also hinder physical progression; pants with tight waistbands can make it difficult and uncomfortable for a baby to move. I encourage parents to create a space where their babies and toddlers can climb over, under and through things every day. It’s also important not to limit a child’s physical confidence by a parent’s own fears or previous experiences, for example, “I’m not very co-ordinated so my child won’t be”.
BOYS VS GIRLS: Personally, I don’t think gender has anything to do with physical ability – it’s more about body mass, the physical attributes of the parents and their lifestyles that affect a child’s movement.
MEETING MILESTONES: An important thing for parents to remember is that milestones such as sitting up, crawling and walking don’t happen at exactly the same age for each baby – they happen when a baby’s muscles are strong enough.
INSTILLING SOCIAL SKILLS: Developing social skills is also an integral part of Mini Muscles – babies and toddlers learn to positively interact with other children as well as adults. They learn to share the equipment and take turns. We encourage kids to count to five if they are waiting for something – this makes the waiting easier as they can anticipate their turn. At the end of each session, we offer an opportunity for group interaction with music. It’s okay if a child wants to participate from afar – just observing helps them to develop confidence and parents should trust that their child will join in when ready.
Rae Paterson, founder of Mini Muscles