Starting early: A new class at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Cornelius is based on the idea that it's never too early to learn.
Marcy Mittelstadt, Mt. Zion's director of music ministries, will be the first educator to bring Babygarten classes to North Carolina. The curriculum introduces babies of all ages to music, reading and play.
Mittelstadt said she's noticed a baby boom at her church, and she sought out the Babygarten curriculum in response.
"It really seemed like something our church could latch on to, for our church members and the community," Mittelstadt said. "We're always looking for things to help parents relate to their children."
Babygarten will meet on Saturday mornings for six weeks beginning Sept. 27. The free, hourlong classes will focus on play and creativity.
While the curriculum is secular, Mittelstadt will begin each session with a prayer.
Early exposure: Mittelstadt said she has been fascinated with research illustrating how infants respond to music and voices, even in utero.
Each Babygarten class will begin with songs and nursery rhymes, as research shows that babies of all ages respond to a steady beat, whether it be in music or to an everyday sound such as a dishwasher.
Mittelstadt said that exposure to nursery rhymes can help with language development and “preliteracy responses.”
Each week's session also will teach parents how to effectively share books with babies and teach them how a book works. All parents will read through the same book at each class, and the course will recommend books that are especially good for babies.
The class will end with a time of “free play,” and Mittelstadt is building a collection of toys for the sessions. While the babies play, Mittelstadt will give parents the instructions and supplies for a craft, such as a handmade toy for their child.
Parental value: Mittelstadt said the course is designed to help parents too. The course will bring together parents from all walks of life who have the common goal of wanting to help in their child's growth in development.
“It becomes a small group for parents,” Mittelstadt said.
Parents will learn new ways to communicate with their baby, and they also can talk to other parents and learn from how they play with and communicate with their babies.
The course also will provide handouts and resource lists for parents who want to extend what they've learned in Babygarten to their home.
Mittelstadt said she has spoken with parents who haven't been involved in a church for a long time but now are looking for ways to get their children and families involved in a church. Babygarten is free and open to anyone with a baby up to 18 months old. Fathers and mothers are encouraged to attend.
“It's an outreach to all those parents out there who want something for their children too," Mittelstadt said. "I want to really have it as a gift to the community.”