Despite pandemic restrictions continuing and many programs moving online to Zoom, there are still many low-cost (or free) baby classes, drop-in activities and play gyms for parents and their little ones.
When I was pregnant, I was obsessed with the idea of making new mom friends. I imagined going on stroller walks and sharing hot gossip over London Fogs with interesting, genuine, and fully-vaccinated mom friends. However, my counsellor said I shouldn’t stress about it because I could just “go to the park” and meet other moms, which felt as applicable in real life as telling your single friends to just “put themselves out there.”
Getting out of the house is challenging with a new baby, and meeting new friends is often even harder. So, it helps to have a weekly event organized by a third party, like a music class or playgroup. Though it may be harder to get a spot in a free baby program than a 2-hour free parking spot downtown, we’ve put together a list of 7 low-cost (or free) baby classes and gyms in Metro Vancouver that are generally accessible. The list below will hopefully give you some options for you to meet your new mom or dad BFF, and of course, connect with your baby.
Free baby classes and programs we love
This is a free program held in partnership with the Vancouver Public Library. The program targets first-time parents of infants 0-12 months. And, it aims to introduce songs, rhymes, and stories to babies without the use of props. Sessions take place at Killarney Community Centre. You can inquire about registering for future baby classes by contacting Cheryl at 604-618-9129 or emailing her directly.
StrongStart is a free drop-in program for parents and caregivers of children ages zero to five years old. Programs are led by qualified early childhood educators and emphasize learning through play, language and positive social interactions with others of similar ages.
19 StrongStart programs operate in elementary schools across Vancouver, which are now open with Covid protocols in place. However, classes are on a first-come, first-served drop-in format with a limit of 10 families a day.
New families need to bring in a completed registration package on their first visit to the StrongStart centre they’d like to attend, along with photocopied proof of the child’s birth date and proof of residency with the parent’s name.
For more information including, the location and hours of the 19 programs around Greater Vancouver, head here.
This winter, the Vancouver Public Library offers in-library programs for children and families, such as in Babytimes and Family Storytimes. Check the Events Calendar that begins the second week of January for program listings and registration.
Free (trial) classes to check out
Gymboree is a franchise that offers play and music classes for babies (0-8 months), crawlers (6-14 months), walkers (10-18 months), all the way up to five years old. Programs involve teacher-led activities that focus on developing children’s new skills, whether babies and toddlers are non-mobile or newly walking. There’s also open gym time for children at all levels of development to explore Gymboree’s playscapes. Gymboree is not free but similar to Music Together, Gymboree offers a free preview class.
This is not a free program, but you can take a demo class for free. I’ve gone from collecting free Sephora samples to free baby classes, how times have changed. My mom and I took my daughter to a class at Kerrisdale Community Centre. Baby and toddler classes take place in a large room, and everyone sits on a foam mat, safely spaced apart. The teacher is mic’d, kind of like a fitness instructor. We sing along to songs and bang on various instruments and Tupperware containers brought from home. The class is unique because it’s mixed-age, so families with more than one child can bring their baby and toddler to the same class. However, it can get a bit hectic, as one can imagine, but my baby loves looking at older kids, so she had a good time. Try a free class by signing up here.
Low-Cost Drop-in Programs
Registration is weekly, every Monday at 9 am. There is a drop-in fee of $3 per family per visit plus an annual membership of $40.
The City of Vancouver offers Parent and Tot Gym drop-ins at several community centres across the city. Children have the opportunity to explore various climbing apparatuses, sports equipment, and toys. The drop-in fee is $3/child or $5/family. You can search the schedule by location here. For example, Mount Pleasant Community Centre has Parent, and Tot Gyms for 0-6-year-olds Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 12 pm. And Hillcrest has Sunday Family Gym for 0-6-year-olds every Sunday from 9:30 am to 11 am. Proof of vaccination is required.
Vancouver Neighborhood Houses offer family drop-in programs for children under five years old. Dads at Play is a program for dads with children 0-5 years old Saturdays from 10 am to 11:30 am. Babies Sing and Grow, a program for parents with babies 0-12 months old, features nursery songs and rhymes, exploration of parenting issues, and baby development. $3 suggested donation per family. More information here.
Many in-person programs are understandably in flux right now as public health orders get updated. After all, these organizations take an abundance-of-caution approach. However, more information will likely be released as restrictions begin to lift. It’s worth looking into South Vancouver Family Place, which operates drop-in family programs at two locations, and the YMCA, which may have drop-in playtime dates scheduled throughout the year.
Jenny Liu is a project manager, professional photographer, and blogger at www.stuff-i-love.com. She lives in Vancouver with her husband and baby girl. Her interests include having one-on-one conversations, trying new skincare treatments around Vancouver, going to fitness classes, and most of all, reading and writing. She has a degree in mechanical engineering and is part of the 2022 Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University.