By Hayley Pearce

Stay-at-home parenting and maternity leave don’t have to mean holing up indoors. From sensory play to baby yoga, there’s something out there to suit every mum (or dad) and their bundle of joy. Parents with newborns may see the groups predominantly as a lifeline to get out and meet others, but older babies benefit from boosted social and physical development. Hayley Pearce explores Southampton’s patchwork of parent and baby classes.

Music and movement

ENTERING Hartbeeps feels like spiriting away to full-blown babyland, complete with bubbles, toys and nursery rhymes.

The three levels – Baby Bells, Baby Beeps and Happy House – cater for ten-week-olds to four-year-olds. For smaller babies, there’s yoga and eye tracking exercises. Toddlers and pre-schoolers enjoy dance, drama and creative play.

The 50-minute get-togethers are just as much a time for mums to socialise: “Motherhood can be isolating and tiring but groups like Hartbeeps are a great way for mums to connect and build lasting friendships,” says Lou, the enthusiastic ‘Imaginator’.

Hartbeeps takes place during term time at Highfield Church Centre, Freemantle and Shirley Community Centre, St Denys Church Centre and YMCA Woolston. A block booking of five classes across a three month period costs £30. Visit

Sensory overload

Tots Play is all about variety. “There’s a mixture of everything, so mums can find out what their babies likes the most,’ says Vicky, who runs the sessions.

Baby development, for newborns to six-month-olds, begins with mums massaging their babies and later introduces yoga, signing, movement and sensory play. The emphasis is on relaxation and gentle stimulation, resulting in a bunch of chilled out babies by end of the class.

Discovery Tots (eight weeks to crawling age; around eight or nine months) and Social Tots (eight months to three years) build on earlier concepts and techniques to develop motor and communication skills. Each course is accompanied by a handbook to complete at home.

Tots Play classes are held at Freemantle Scout Hut, Calmore Community Centre and Bitterne Scout Hut on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays respectively. A half term booking is £30, a full term costs £54 and a trial of three classes is £12. See

Baby signing

Babies can communicate long before they utter that eagerly anticipated first word, and not just by crying. Sing and Sign, led by Heidi Cook, brings mums, dads and babies as young as ten weeks together for interactive sign-based singalongs.

“Mums with postnatal depression say they prefer this class to ‘stay and play’ groups, which can be intimidating,” says Heidi. “We also have WhatsApp groups to encourage communication outside of class.”

The Babes class (£26 for a six-week course) for babies aged up to six months teaches around 100 basic signs, including animal names. For those aged between six and 24 months, Stage 1 and 2 classes (£65 for a ten-week course) introduce more advanced concepts like moods and weather.

Classes take place at Totton and Eling Community Centre, St. Mark’s Church Centre in Shirley and Fleming Park Leisure Centre in Eastleigh. Visit

Baby massage

Massage improves babies’ muscle tone, relieves colic and relaxes them. Little Lambs is an 25-minute class for all babies under crawling age where mums treat their treasures to an all-over body massage. There is plenty of time for a chat and a cuppa afterwards.

Emma Norman has been running the drop-in baby massage classes for four years. “Maternity leave is the perfect time to make a new start,” says Emma.

“I didn’t want to go back to my old job after having my son, so I trained in massage therapy.”

Joanna from Highfield has been bringing her daughter Faye regularly since she was just eight weeks old. “I mainly come for the social aspect and my week is full of classes, but I’m using techniques I’ve learnt here as part of Faye’s evening routine too,” she says.

Classes take place on Tuesdays from 1-2.30pm at the Old Chemist in Bitterne Triangle and on Thursdays from 10.30-11.30am at Paint Pots House in Portswood. Each class costs £5. More information at

Little swimmers

Swim nappies at the ready! Not only is Turtle Tots about having a whale of a time in a warm hydro pool, the progressive classes also improve confidence and motor skills, and are potentially lifesaving.

“If babies take anything away from Turtle Tots, I’d like it to be safety awareness,” says Hannah. “We cover holding onto the side of the pool, kicking and swimming underwater.”

Swooshing babies around and lifting them up in the air makes for a nice workout for the grown-ups as well, burning up to 250 calories per class.

Level one classes for newborns to ten-month-olds begin at Red Lodge Community Pool in Bassett, Regents Park College in Millbrook and Bitterne’s Tree Tops Pool in March and April. A ten-week course costs £120. Details at

Baby yoga

Natalie Lyndon of Yogarise specialises in pregnancy and postnatal yoga, and her baby yoga programme combines gentle bonding massage and poses for babies with empowering stretches for mums.

“Yoga heals and repairs the postnatal body,” says Natalie. “It also helps develop baby’s emotional intelligence as you learn from each other.”

Laura from Bursledon and her six-month-old Isaac have completed one six-week course and are starting another. “This class is ideal because there’s lots of moving around. It’s a nice thing to do on a Monday morning,” she says.

Natalie runs courses at Paint Pots House in Portswood, Julie’s Dance Studio in Sholing and The Hilt in Chandler’s Ford. Six classes costs £36 or £38.50 depending on the location. Go to

Stay and play

For those that just want a chinwag and a cuppa, Poppin – a baby, toddler and pre-schooler group – at Above Bar Church takes place every Monday and Tuesday from 10-11.30am and costs just 50p. There’s a babies corner, as well as plenty of crafts, toys and singalongs for the older ones.