FREE PLAY

In­sights on keep­ing lit­tle ones ac­tive

Little Treasures - - CONTENTS -

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

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