Music, Movement & Bubbles—Oh My!
In a multiuse building in the Financial District, a plain white walled space has been transformed into a lively room with bright mats, a crawl tunnel, and a table filled with colorful toys and books. Six babies, all roughly 1 year old, have gathered here at Creative Play for Kids to be transported into a world of non-stop fun and learning. While they wait for their friends to arrive for class, some of the babies are “reading” books and others are having a “conversation” with Eileen Levine, the founder of the organization.
When it’s time to start the class, Levine shakes her egg-shaped maracas. The inquisitive babies are captivated by the rattling sound. Hooked, they crawl (with help) into a semi-circle around Levine. For the next 45 minutes, the babies learn colors and the alphabet, explore movement and textures, and develop their social skills—all through music, movement, art, and playtime with their friends.
Creative Play isn’t the first to offer developmental classes for the age range of 10 weeks to 3 years—but Levine calls her program a “complete sensory experience…not just a music class where babies and toddlers sit and listen to music.” She goes on to explain her multi-pronged approach.
“Movement, music, and tactile and kinetic stimulation are the foundations for learning in babies and toddlers,” Levine says. “It stimulates the nervous system; it affects the brain; it’s visual.”
Rather than separating children just by age, as many other programs do, for a special touch, Creative Play organizes each class based on the child’s approximate age range as it corresponds to their mobility stage—non-mobile, mobile, walkers, or older kids. Levine then designs a program—blending music, movement, and play—tailored for each group.
This is the type of dynamic and mixed program that Levine was looking for but couldn’t find 17 years ago for her own son. When she shared her frustrations about the lack of options, a friend suggested they brainstorm a way to put something together for moms and babies—and she did. Drawing upon her Masters degree in child development and educational psychology, along with her work experience as a child life specialist and an early childhood educator, Levine officially founded Creative Play in 2002. Fourteen years later, Creative Play has grown from one class per week in Greenwich Village, hosted by Levine, to 36 classes spread over 12 locations throughout Manhattan, helmed by a small but enthusiastic staff that Levine has built.
For the Creative Play team, creating a stimulating environment where there’s a lot for kids to experience (at their own pace) is key to their development. “Babies learn by watching, feeling, tasting, discovering, and exploring everything in their world,” Levine explains. She further elaborates using the example of how babies imitate clapping after observing a teacher clap week after week. In this case, the learning process began before the babies tried the movement themselves; it started with them seeing someone else perform it. In other words, the babies learned to clap “because they [first] experienced it in their environment,” Levine says.
A carefully planned curriculum and class setup aside, there’s something else that Levine considers an ingredient to Creative Play’s secret sauce.
“Our motto is to have fun. We’re super-high energy: We’ve got musicians, we’ve got parachutes, we have story time, we do art. And,” she adds, smiling, “we always have bubbles.”
It looks like it’s working. “Eileen’s amazing with getting the kids engaged,” a Creative Play parent named Lama Zeidan attests. She’s the mother of 17-month-old Leyla, who seems to be a pretty big Creative Play fan. “Leyla looks forward to going to class—and she doesn’t want to leave half of the time.”
While the children certainly are what’s bringing everyone together, Creative Play isn’t just for them. Here, parents also have the opportunity to connect with, and get support from, other parents. All the while, they’re learning from the program’s educators what their babies can do at their developmental stage, what they can do with their babies, and how to utilize the classroom activities at home. One mom, Levine shares, sang Creative Play’s clean-up song at home to get her child to tidy up.
Over the next five years, Levine hopes to expand to other kid-friendly neighborhoods in Manhattan and possibly to Brooklyn. “There’s nothing other than my family that I’m more passionate about than Creative Play for Kids,” Levine says while placing her hands on her heart. “My heart and soul are in this.”
In a blink of an eye, the 45-minute class ends. Levine’s held the attention of the kids—and, just as impressively, of the parents—the entire time. That’s the power of a truly dynamic learning experience combined with a perfect mix of catchy songs, interactive movement, and colorful visuals.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CREATIVE PLAY FOR KIDS, VISIT CREATIVEPLAYFORKIDS.COM